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Making Sense Of British Politics Today

We are living in exceptional times. It is hard to recall one such as this in modern peace-time history. Both the major political parties are deeply divided with leadership problems. The five candidates for the Conservative leadership are all Christians but they disagree about our relationship with Europe and have different policy priorities.

The Parliamentary Labour party is in open civil war with 172 to 40 MPs voting in a motion of no confidence in their leader Jeremy Corbyn. He won’t resign because he says he has majority support in the national party. Ultimately these intra-party divisions are about what their parties stand for and they reflect similar divisions in the nation. The referendum has exposed this, but it runs deeper than the Europe issue.

The Conservatives are a party of free market capitalism. David Cameron identified four aims when he became their leader: to improve the quality of life for everyone; to manage a dynamic economy creating jobs, wealth and opportunity; to sustain a strong society where families, communities and the nation secure foundations on which people can build their lives; and to create a sustainable environment and protect the future of the planet. It is hard to dissent from these aims but how they are translated into active policies is the real issue.

Of the five leadership candidates, the Home Secretary Theresa May is thought to have more MP supporters than the other four candidates together but there are three more stages before the last two are put to the wider party membership for the final vote. It seems likely at this stage that the two female candidates will be in that election and we shall then discover whether Theresa May or the Brexit Leadsom is the next leader and Prime Minister.

The Labour party’s declared values are equally bland: social justice; strong community and strong values; reward for hard work; decency; and rights matched by responsibilities. The real issue is whether they lead to the socialist policies Corbyn wants or to a social democrat alternative that many of its MPs support. Traditional Labour supporters who voted for Brexit might turn to UKIP in the next election and deny Labour any hope of victory. A divided party that is losing its bedrock supporters will most probably split.

One possible outcome would be the fragmentation of both major parties and the emergence of a new centrist party. That would most likely mean coalition Governments but the 2010-15 Parliament showed that this can be made to work. Two Labour MPs, Clive Lewis and Jonathan Reynolds, though on different wings of their party, are agreed on the need for the introduction of proportional representation to better reflect voters’ wishes and encourage cross party alliances, in their case, an alliance of progressive politicians.

More important than such changes are the values that shape our parties’ policies. The nation needs to be reunited, individual rights balanced by concern for the common good and our liberties matched by an obligation to be responsible citizens. The market may be the best way of allocating resources, but there should also be a duty to care for the poorest and vulnerable members of society. These are Christian values and should inform our prayers about who leads our nation.

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