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Mrs May's Relational Agenda

In her first statement as Prime Minister, Theresa May said things that merit serious reflection. She listed the conditions of those who were born poor, those who are discriminated and treated unjustly because they are black, those who are white working class boys, those not privately educated, women paid less than men, those with mental health problems and young people unable to buy their own homes and how these people are disadvantaged. 

She branded these conditions as injustices and pledged, “The Government I will lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.” She has gone on to advocate ordinary workers being on boards of companies.  The Labour peer, Maurice Glasman has described this as an unprecedented move by a British Prime Minister, whether Labour or Conservative, so this is about more than party politics. I am tempted to suggest that it is a reflection of Mrs May’s Christian faith.

Arguably, it also recognises the shortcomings of capitalism and big State socialism and it reaches for a more relational approach to government and how we manage our economy. The pay differentials between top salaries and those on the shop floor are excessive and unjust. Whilst zero hours contracts work for some they are exploitive for others.  The involvement of slave labour in the supply chains of British firms is shameful and now illegal, thanks to Mrs May’s time at the Home Office. The big banks are now so big that no government can allow them to fail. The use of derivatives and other new financial instruments are unintelligible to most of us and the largest companies have become too complex to be properly accountable.

Nor is the problem just in the private sector. Central government has become so big that it struggles to fund its activities without borrowing too much and then lurching to periods of austerity to reduce the national debt that we have experienced in recent years. The last Government’s measures of devolving more powers and responsibilities to directly elected Mayors of major conurbations could be a step in the right direction but only if those Mayors themselves delegate and nurture greater grass roots participation. This would mean a conscious attempt to change our political culture to better reflect the dignity of human beings made in the image of God.

Such a relational approach to government would be profoundly Christian. The God revealed in the Bible is three persons in one Being, operating in perfect harmony. Our Creator made us in his image with a capacity to relate to him and to each other. Jesus told us to love one another as we love ourselves but the way we do politics and economics today denies that. Sectional and self-interest takes precedence over the common good and too often this leads to the injustices named by Theresa May. Michael Schluter, the doyen of relational thinking, argues that “Many biblical passages define what behaviour constitutes right relationships, both generally and in the context of specific roles such as parent, child, husband, wife, employer, pastor and owner of capital. God has a particular concern for the relationally and financially disadvantaged, such as widows, orphans and foreigners.”[i] If that perspective was shaping Mrs May’s statement we should be praying that she is able to deliver her pledge, for Christian not partisan motives.

[i] Michael Schluter; “Beyond Capitalism: Towards a Relationally Economy”, Jubilee Centre Cambridge.

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