Millions of words are being churned out across all the media platforms, digesting, analysing and commenting on the General Election results and the consequent horse-trading between the major parties. So, I will take a different tack in a moment, but, first a puzzled question.
During the campaign we were constantly told that a vote for the Liberal Democrats was a vote for five more years of Gordon Brown. Contrary to protestations that the campaign was one of ‘hope, not fear’ (!), we had constantly been warned that the prospect of not providing a clear decision was so appalling that it couldn’t be contemplated. Well, now it is a reality. But, why is it somehow better to say that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for David Cameron? One of the most over-used images of the campaign had to do with ‘who was getting into bed with whom’ in any post-election coalition. I guess we’ll find out in the next day or two.
I stayed up all night to watch the coverage (and listen to such wisdom from the TV pundits as: “The picture will become clearer the more results come in.” Sheer genius…). This wasn’t curiosity or masochism – I was being picked up at 4.15am to go and do a ‘live’ Pause for Thought slot on the Sarah Kennedy Show on BBC Radio 2. The line I took could have been taken in any circumstances and whoever got elected. Basically, I urged a new respect for and encouragement of those who offer themselves for public office. Yes, they need scrutiny and holding to account, but they need and deserve a recovery of value and respect – otherwise we shouldn’t be surprised at the quality and ability of the people who do submit themselves to very public electoral triumph or humiliation.
Today thousands of people will find that their lives have changed – for good or ill. Some who have served as local councillors will find that their efforts have not been rewarded and they have been replaced. Some MPs will discover that they weren’t as popular as they had hoped. And many candidates for public office will now be coming to terms with the will of the people that they should serve as members of Parliament or as local councillors.
Wherever we may place ourselves on the political or party spectrum, at the very least we can congratulate those successful candidates and thank them for being willing to serve the wider community in this way – often at great cost to their private, business or family life. We owe them our gratitude. And to those who now find themselves suddenly bereft of public approval we should offer our thanks for what they have given in the past – however successful or otherwise they might have been.
We have had a year in which it has been too easy to heap opprobrium on politicians at every level and regardless of the particularities of individuals’ circumstances or behaviour. But not all politicians are ego-merchants who are hungry for recognition or simply greedy for power.
In my radio piece I made the point that when the Apostle Paul urged the Christians in Rome to honour and pray for those in authority, he wasn’t being silly or naive – after all, he was soon to lose his own life at the hands of the brutal Empire. He had no illusions about how corrupt politics can be. But, he still urged the Christians to honour the rulers. Why? Because their task is a demanding one and because they are stewards of the responsibilities they carry. I concluded:
If we want better politicians and better government, then we must be prepared not only to criticise them when they foul it up, but also to recognise when they get it right.
Whatever the final shape of our government, we know that we will now be facing some tough times. But we can at least resolve to encourage those who face the tough and often costly task of representing us and making hard decisions – and not just holding them to account. When bishops are ordained they are encouraged to ‘exercise justice with mercy’ – that’s not a bad phrase to use for our politicians, too.