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Are the parties the problem?

Cynicism about politics and politicians is at an all-time high. Party membership is shrinking; electoral turnout is embarrassingly low, except for the Scottish referendum. Those who struggled to win universal adult franchise must be turning in their graves. We face a general election in four months that is expected to produce no party with a majority. The likely outcome with be either another coalition or a minority government that only lasts six months, potentially increasing public dissatisfaction.

What can be done to revive real democracy in Britain? Surely no one wants a dictatorship. Electoral reform was offered and rejected. The Recall of MPs Bill, which is close to becoming law, will allow electors to recall errant MPs and force a by-election. This may address a few cases of misbehaviour but it will not, on its own, create a more participative democracy. What will?

The problem may not solely be the politicians. We the electors might examine our own attitudes. Are we too willing to leave it all to them and not make time to think about the issues and prayerfully contribute to public debate and lobby our MP? Do we use our spare time only for personal and family recreation? Shrinking party memberships increase the possibility for individual party members to influence candidate selection and contribute to party policy debate, creating an opportunity to bring Christian values to those debates.

Britain is becoming increasingly secular and the evidence can be seen in some of the legislation before Parliament. Religious freedom is better respected here than in some other countries but there is no room for complacency. Stable family life is under threat and needs defending. The 0.7% of GDP given in overseas aid also needs defending from those who say charity begins at home. The right balance between the role of Government and individual and community responsibility is another debate that needs Christian voices to be heard. Churches are doing some excellent compassionate work in food banks, street pastors, and debt counselling but we need to try to influence social policy so that the need for these initiatives becomes less necessary.

Political parties play a crucial role in our system of government. Without them we would have no way of choosing who governs us. Holding a parliament of independent MPs accountable for their decisions would be impossible. So the issues are which parties and how they operate? That said there are some issues that are not best dealt with in the present system. Issues like climate change, energy security and integrating health and social care provision call for long term solutions that are not best developed in the five year electoral timetable. They call for cross-party consensus that ensures that if there is a change of government the policy is continued. Such consensus is possible but not as common as it needs to be.

So what are you and I going to do about all this? As citizens of the UK and the Kingdom of God we should be praying about our responsibility and calling. 

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