"None of the above" - a response to Frank Cranmer
As His Grace mentioned last week, Gillan Scott of the excellent God & Politics in the UK blog has been running an insightful series on Christians who belong to political parties and justify their activism with appeals to Scripture. Today he comes to a Quaker in the guise of Frank Cranmer (no relation), who writes the equally excellent Law & Religion UK blog. Mr Cranmer has no current political allegiance, though he is ex-Labour (he is also ex-Anglican, but left and became a Quaker "in order to get away from 'doctrine'" [which His Grace takes as a compliment]).
Contrary to the caricature ranting of certain robust Roman Catholics who populate His Grace's comment threads, it is not and never has been the purpose of this blog to instruct people in how they should vote: His Grace inclines toward a conservative view of the world, but would far rather people voted Labour than not vote at all. And he is fully aware that the Conservatives frequently engage in or advocate that which is fundamentally un-conservative. But we live in a liberal democracy, and His Grace is of the view that voting is the least worst option of all the mechanisms that give rise to government, which is, as Augustine observed, a necessary evil. Those who do not vote for the party which is likely to do the most good and cause the least harm are simply increasing the likelihood of the proliferation of evil. That is not to say that His Grace is not unsympathetic to those who refuse to vote: it can be an honourable principled abstention. But that self-denial (in a liberal democracy, of a human right) is a wilful choice for impotence and an abdication of responsibility, which logically precludes the right to criticise, denounce or grumble when the government gets it wrong.
Political parties win elections by promising heaven on earth - 'twas ever thus. And when, a year or so later, the people realise that they are still in purgatory, another swathe of disaffected voters views the democratic process with cynicism and disdain, declaring a plague on all their houses. This leads to a voter apathy and alienation, a deterioration in democratic participation and a declining turnout in elections, especially among the young. This appears to be where Frank Cranmer finds himself.
This blog has never advocated the blind endorsement of any political party: it does not purport to be any kind of 'bridge' between Christian communities and the Conservative Party (that is the professed role and function of the CCF). Rather His Grace has sought for eight long years to explore the rich stream that flows between Christianity and conservatism. The principal concern aims to be that place where Christian theology meets political philosophy. These are usually expressed in the pulpit and through party politics. You may take the view that theology is diminished and philosophy corrupted by the mediating agency, but that is the human condition.
Mr Cranmer is free not to vote: that is his human right. But his reason for not voting Conservative merits a response, not least because it labours under a few misapprehensions. He wrote:
As for the Conservatives, although (with Margaret Thatcher, I’m afraid) I firmly believe that the free market is the least-inefficient method of allocating resources, in my view its concomitant has to be proper State provision for the poor – of which there is an alarmingly-high number in the UK.This is as good a reason as any to vote Conservative (though all the main parties have to some extent now embraced 'neoliberalism' and the virtues of the free market). There is an acknowledgment that the market is "the least-inefficient method of allocating resources", ie, the lesser evil. But neither Socialist nor Green philosophy lauds private enterprise. Their collectivist mindset focuses on the shortcomings of Capitalism - of which there are many - and their view of Thatcherite wealth creation is that it is a manifest cause of inequality and poverty. Mr Cranmer seems to appreciate that it is the competitive market which is best placed to allocate resources, but he is not apparently aware that it has contributed more than any alternative in history to the eradication of disease, squalor, hunger, ignorance and destitution. There are indeed many poor in the UK, but their relative poverty is nothing compared to the absolute poverty experienced by many millions in the most poverty-stricken regions of the world. It is capitalism and the market which are improving their lot: socialism keeps them there.
Some elements in the Conservative Party seem to think that those who are unemployed should simply pull themselves together and find a job: tell that to folk living in places like the parts of Birmingham where the unemployment level is between 8 and 10 per cent.Yes, there are some complete bastards in the Conservative Party. But there are some thoroughly obnoxious Quakers, too. And yet one wonders at the caricature here: what Conservative has ever said that the unemployed "should simply pull themselves together and find a job", without acknowledging that some are simply unable to do so? Any quote His Grace can find is addressed directly to the indolent and recidivist; those who calculate that welfare pays more than work, and so they are content to be supported by the taxpayer. Iain Duncan Smith is trying to address this fundamental injustice, for why in parts of Birmingham should someone in work be poorer than those on benefits? Why should those who take responsibility for providing for their families live a more meagre existence than those who claim the dole? But no Conservative is unaware of the moral obligation of the State to care for widows and orphans, or the elderly and disabled. And in those areas of the country where unemployment is high, the Conservative approach is not laissez faire: it is to create the right social conditions and legal framework for enterprise to flourish.
And I was utterly unconvinced by the Chancellor’s arguments for reducing the top rate of income tax from 50 per cent to 45 per cent.There is a very plausible theory of optimal taxation: see HERE.
But my principal reason for avoiding the Conservatives is their attitude to human rights in general and to the European Convention on Human Rights in particular.This is interesting, for modern Conservatives have embraced human rights lock, stock and barrel: the UN Charter demands it. If there is an 'attitude', it is not borne of bigotry or intolerance; it is simply that conservatives look to a different historical and philosophical tradition to that which emerged from the French Revolution. Burke is the conservative starting point, and his substantive review of conservative tenets includes an insistence on concrete rights rather than abstract ones; an organic conception of society as an eternal partnership between past, present and future; history as the accumulated wisdom of all generations; the natural inequality of human beings, and hence of their status and property; respect for authority and its institutional manifestations, law and religion; and an acceptance of gradual change.
We need a robust and justiciable regime of human rights to protect us against arbitrary and capricious decisions by public authorities and, incidentally, we need an equally robust and accessible mechanism of judicial review of their actions – neither of which seems to be within the comprehension of Lord Chancellor Grayling.Very many Conservatives would agree (even about the inadequacies of Lord Chancellor Grayling). But the conservative justiciable regime of human rights negates the notion of abstract a priori rights in favour of an ex post facto theorisation of the development of rights within a cultural tradition. Mr Cranmer may recoil from the Tory commendations of authority, reverence, and paternalistic, quasi-feudal responsibilities, but it is a fundamental misapprehension to believe that Conservatives or conservatives do not support the necessary rights "to protect us against arbitrary and capricious decisions by public authorities". Conservative human rights are founded upon our traditional liberties within a framework of the rule of law, and those rights have corresponding duties. While it is a logical constraint found in all ideologies that rights entail duties, the decontestation of duties undertaken by conservatives is not based on the ensuing notion of reciprocity, as in liberal or some socialist thought, but on cultural constraint promoting the obligation not to burden others and, instead, to assume self-responsibility.
And how can we lecture corrupt regimes about their behaviour and promote good governance within the Commonwealth unless we are absolutely squeaky-clean ourselves?We cannot, which is why hypocrisy, falsehood, conceit and deception must be swept from our political system.
But that can never be attained while good people insist on voting for none of the above.