Maybe it was arrogance, but I used to think I was a fairly well-informed voter. I tend to follow politics pretty closely, even when there isn’t an election around the corner. I’ve always been curious about understanding the issues of the day.
More than that, I tried quite hard when it did come to elections to choose who to vote for based on policies, not personalities or prejudices. I would read through each party’s manifesto and give each section – housing, education, foreign policy etc – a score out of three. Then, add up the various scores … and bingo: that was who I had to vote for. I prided myself on voting the right way, choosing which party’s platform best reflected my own views, and not letting the campaigns or the media cloud the issues.
But this time round, I’m not feeling quite so smug. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll even do my normal manifesto maths session. There’s a niggling, growing doubt in the back of my mind that I can’t seem to shake. Can I really pretend that I understand every, or even most, policies laid out in a manifesto? And more than that, am I sure that I am able to discern which are good policies and which would be disastrous?
Take taxes for instance. I’m broadly a centre-left kind of guy, so I’m not opposed to Labour’s idea of raising taxes on some high-earners to pay for other stuff. But then I also know that you can raise taxes too much and then the wealthy begin to avoid them by turning their income into dividends or pushing it offshore. And then you end up with less money coming in from taxes than you had before. Given I’m not a macro-economist, how can I begin to work out if Labour would raise taxes counter-productively high?
Or what about the furious debate about the Conservative’s social care proposal? Off the top of my head I thought it sounded reasonable, you pay for your own care until you have just £100,000 left to pass on to your kids, and then the state steps in. But then you read arguments condemning it as an Alzheimer’s lottery, or less fair than a cap on the total cost of care. To figure out who’s right I’d have to take at least a few days off work to research it properly and become an expert in dementia, social insurance, the demographics of Britain’s elderly, and the housing market.
Sure, I have gut reactions to these policies, but I don’t know if I can trust them anymore. Does my dislike of Jeremy Corbyn cloud my judgement on his proposals? Maybe my total opposition to Brexit means I’m not considering the Tories’ offer fairly?
And then there’s a bigger question – are policies really the only, or even the best, way to assess who to cast your ballot for? This blog really set the cat among the pigeons for me.
We all know that sometimes parties don’t follow through on their policies. And as the blog says, there is rarely any penalty for promising stuff which is nice but unachievable or unrealistic, particularly for the opposition. Other times, what’s really crucial is not what’s in the manifesto, but what’s left out. And it’s possible that the big issue of the next five years hasn’t even been thought of – no party manifestos in 2001’s election laid out a policy on whether or not to invade Iraq, after all.
The blog also makes the good point that we have to consider policies in their context, not take them in a vacuum. Two identical pledges can mean very different things in the context of different parties and their previous plans. The character and story of each leader, and the party’s MPs, also matters. Are they ideologues, or driven by evidence? How will they cope when crises hit?
It feels like the more knowledge you have about politics, the less certain anything is. I used to think I could achieve some kind of impartial birds-eye view of politics – make reasoned, unbiased assessments about each party’s position and then cast my vote with confidence. But this time round, I feel all at sea.
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The truth is, the world is bafflingly, sometimes frighteningly, complex. I increasingly feel like some problems – the Syrian conflict, caring for our aging, ailing population, disentangling ourselves from the EU without damaging our economy – are so vast and mind-bogglingly difficult that they might not have a solution after all.
Perhaps it’s time we got down off our thrones and acknowledged that we humans aren’t so great at running the world or fixing it when it goes wrong. Sometimes we don’t have the answers and just have to guess, even with all the evidence and best experts at hand. Maybe it’s time we gulped down a generous portion of humble pie and admitted we can’t chart our way through this world by intellect and good research alone.
I’m not endorsing political apathy. Far from it – it’s very important every Christian uses their vote on 8 June. God can take our small, imperfect attempts to put things right and multiply them to build his kingdom. We’ve got to do the best we can, making decisions in good faith and with as much thought as possible, but at the same time accept we will fall short.
It’s certainly scary to take this road, particularly for those of us who pride ourselves on having it all figured out. But I think it’s a path back to God – a path which pushes us to lay down our pretensions about being all knowing and instead entrust our lives and our world to the one who really is.