måndag 10 mars 2008

Christian political parties - are they a good thing?

christian democrats, originally uploaded by friendly-fire.

I came across a blog recently which was highly critical, quite reasonably, of the Swedish Christian Democratic party, on the grounds that it had been giving support to policies that compromised Christian principles. The solution, in the author’s view, is to establish a new party.

From a British perspective, the notion of a Christian Democratic party on the Western European model is alien. All three of the British political parties draw on a variety of roots. The Conservatives have long included a strand of Catholic/Anglican tradition, represented by MPs such as the late Enoch Powell, a High Anglican, Norman St John Stevas, a Roman Catholic, Chris Patten, a liberal Roman Catholic, and Anne Widdicombe, a former Anglican and convert to Catholicism. The Liberals grew out of the Whig party but there were Quaker and Nonconformist adherents. Labour, too, had Methodist and other Nonconformist support in its early days, and was also the party of choice for working-class Roman Catholic immigrants, especially in areas like the London docklands and Clydeside. More than occasionally, as the original idealism wore off, the latter were liable to become infected with corruption and sleaze.

But the British parties, which are essentially loose, ad-hoc and pragmatic alliances, have also drawn on other support. The Conservatives are the natural party for those with landowning and business interests and a strong in their promotion of consumerism, whilst Labour has been and still is heavily influenced by atheistic Marxism. A committed Christian of any stripe is not going to feel completely comfortable in any of the British parties.

The British two-and-a-half party system is sustained by the first-past-the-post electoral system, and under a more proportionate voting arrangement, it would probably break up, giving perhaps half-a-dozen parties. But in countries where this is the situation, the parties must inevitably form ad-hoc and pragmatic alliances in order that governments can form and act. Compromise in inherent in such a system.

Where does this leave any party attempting to apply religious principles? In a society dominated by secular values, the options for a political party are either to compromise or stay out of the main arena and attempt to influence from the edge. In the long term, eschewing power and staying on the sidelines is probably the better way as it is just not possible to impose religious views on people who do not subscribe to them. But though UK politics are in a bad state at the moment, perhaps the British way has much to recommend it. Christians can join a party of their choice, but they must accept that they will have to work with people with some of whose views they will not agree, and at times will be forced to compromise. If they do not want to do that, there are, in a democratic society (or even a non-democratic one), many other ways of exerting influence than through party politics.

But even in a favourable environment, a Christian political party would be faced with particular difficulties. Politician have to establish fiscal, economic and foreign policies. Christian teaching often gives little guidance as to what should be done. Sometimes it is unclear how principles ought to be applied. For example, it cannot be right to apply a policy which would leave a significant proportion of the population in poverty, but without a sound understanding of economic mechanisms, governments can and often do implement such policies out of plain ignorance. I hope to return to this subject later.

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