The deed is done. Although the polls don't open until tomorrow, I have voted in what promises to be one of the tightest and most confusing elections in modern history. As a pastor I am occasionally asked to give advice about who to vote for, and as a pastor I refuse to do that. The equation of Christianity with one particular political position and the bringing of party politics into the pulpit is always a disaster. However that does not mean we are not interested. Organisations such as CARE, EA and Solas have encouraged local churches to hold hustings and give real politicians the opportunity to meet real people. On Monday night I had the privilege of chairing one such meeting. It was good tempered, informative and fun. And I know it was helpful for many people who have still to make up their mind. The trouble is that we have a very confused system in the UK. On the one hand the media present it as a presidential contest – vote for Cameron/Milliband/Clegg/Farage/Sturgeon. On the other we are voting for a local MP. What happens if, as one man said last night, you can't stand the thought of Ed Miliband being Prime Minister, but your local Labour candidate seems by far the best prospective MP? (The same of course applies for other combinations).
For Christians the situation is made even more difficult because on so many of the issues it seems as though we are out of step with the general zeitgeist. Do I really have to vote UKIP if I am against same sex marriage? It seems as though there is a political class in charge in the UK which has created a great divide, leaving many people behind and feeling disenfranchised. The three main UK parties and their leaders are as The Week described – "liberal, metropolitan elites, broadly sympathetic to gay marriage, the EU and immigration". At the last general election I struggled to find someone I could actually in good conscience vote for. Are we one-issue voters? Would we vote for someone who supported abortion? Euthanasia? Racism? Do we vote for the least bad option? Do we give a protest vote to the smaller parties? Would we even consider voting for a Christian party? And what exactly is Christian about a Christian party? Is there really a Christian view on Scottish independence, the amount of income tax, or how many tanks we should have? It can be really confusing. Perhaps, as someone who has voted for all the major parties at various times, I can be classed as a typical confused Christian voter. As such I have found the following websites from CARE, the Evangelical Alliance and the Free Church of Scotland helpful.
As I think about the various parties I find myself in a position where, although my political sympathies might lie with one party more than another, the priority for me is who is going to be my local MP. In my city there is about as much chance of a Tory getting in, as there is of UKIP – and they are not standing! If I believed the Conservatives had run the economy well, had a good foreign policy, supported a school voucher system and would defend the country, then I could be tempted to vote for them. But in the rush for the supposed middle ground the Tories have alienated many of their potential supporters over issues such as gay marriage and immigration.
UKIP will probably not get more than a handful of MPs, but the 14 per cent of the vote they could achieve may prove decisive in many constituencies. I found their 'Christian' manifesto patronising and unnecessary and some of their candidates scare me. Although it amuses me that if ever I take one of those dreadful simplistic online 'which party are you' polls, I often end up as UKIP – which just goes to show how unreliable and useless most of these polls are.
So that brings me to Labour. If I believed that Labour really would reign in the worst excesses of corporate capitalism, would bring social justice and would improve education and the health service without wrecking the economy, I might be persuaded. But I am not sure whether New Labour and the New Tories are really any different to one another. The Labour candidate I heard last night was very impressive and given the other options he would have been a strong candidate for my vote, if he had been in my constituency. I dislike many Labour policies (as I do Conservative) and fear that the party is still run by the Islington Elites whose concern is more about liberal social issues than it is about economic justice. From a personal perspective a combination of corporate capitalism and social liberalism is the nightmare ticket. So maybe I should go for the Lib Dems? After all they claim to be in the middle. If we vote for them then we are preventing the Tories from lurching too far to the right, or Labour to the left. Except if I am right that Tories and Labour are essentially walking the same 'middle' ground, what difference would the Lib Dems make?
Perhaps I should go a bit more 'extreme'? Anyone for the Greens? They actually have some policies that make a lot of sense to me, but then some of their stuff is Gaia madness. Do I really want to vote for letting rabbits out of their hutches? My local candidate would have to be exceptional before I would vote for a party whose leader says she would constructively consider supporting polygamous marriages.
And then there is the SNP. Apparently the most popular Twitter hashtag in England after the TV election debates was 'how can I vote for Sturgeon'? She is certainly very impressive, which is why the London press are in a panic calling her 'the most dangerous woman in Britain?' I don't believe the direst predictions (for the other parties) that all 59 Scottish seats will be won by the SNP, but polls in Scotland indicate that there is a revolution going on here that will really affect the rest of Britain. Do I want to be part of that revolution? The SNP has proved capable in government, and are certainly different in some respects. And yet they are as socially 'liberal and progressive' as all the metro-elite parties.
But now the vote is cast (or about to be). God have mercy on us!
Perhaps the best answer to the question, 'How should I vote?' is 'prayerfully'! I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-3, NIV).