Is it just my imagination or is this election campaign passing most people by in a fog of irrelevance? I know the media are fired up to cover every angle possible (but, for pity’s sake, WHY has the Guardian stooped to rating the clothing style of the party leaders’ wives? ), but I get the impression that outside of the chattering classes there isn’t a lot of interest.
Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising. After the rubbishing of and by politicians in the wake of the expenses furore, the pat response to any mention of politicians seems to be, ‘well, they’re all liars, innit’. Arcane arguments about who supports or rejects National Insurance increases from 2011 shed little light on how a new government might behave in the round. The knockabout stuff between the main parties – accompanied by the hectoring posturing of the leaders – is very theatrical, but doesn’t tell us a great deal more than who can play the game best. They all appear to be arguing over the best way to bury a corpse.
Don’t you just long for someone to speak with vision? I was listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Working on a Dream yesterday and wishing he’d called it Desperate for a Dream instead. An Old Testament prophet claimed that ‘without a vision people perish’ – and never was a truer word spoken. But it is hard to detect a vision in this election that inspires the heart and mind. I’m not looking for a better financial deal for ‘me’, but a better way for our society to be shaped and nurtured. Calling it ‘broken’ in every sentence really doesn’t take us any further.
However, one campaign is full of light and vision and – will wonders ever cease – has the merit of being achievable. It is the Citizens campaign to turn the sterile ‘immigration’ rhetoric into something more humane by changing the language we use. This campaign aims to get politicians of all shades to sign a pledge which calls for an end to the language of ‘asylum’ in favour of the word ‘sanctuary’ and an end to child detention in the UK.
‘Sanctuary’ gets us away from subliminal notions of locking people away (because they are strange) and returns to them their humanity. This is not about immigration control or the debate about how to limit the number of illegal immigrants to the UK; but, it is about focusing on the experience of many people who come to this country – with its noble history of providing sanctuary to those forced to flee their homeland because of violence, torture, fear or oppression.
The centre for processing immigrants and (what have so far been called) ‘asylum seekers’ is Croydon. I have yet to meet anyone of the Daily Mail persuasion who has actually met and listened to the stories of genuine sanctuary-seekers. In the churches of my Episcopal Area we cannot avoid this experience. My clergy deal every day with real people with real stories and real fears. Some of those stories make you weep with shame. Yes, there are people who play the system, but their victims should not be the genuine seekers whose lives have been appallingly destroyed and yet who show immense courage and dignity in the face of the coldness or hostility they face.
The Sanctuary Pledge deserves to succceed. It isn’t party-political in any sense. It avoids pointing fingers and making accusations. But, based on real relationships and real knowledge (instead of sloganising based on ignorance or mere statistical game-playing), it aims to restore some dignity and humanity to the public discourse on matters of life and death.