I am all for fixed-term parliaments and knowing when the next general election will take place, but we had better learn from other countries that have had them for years how to handle them.
Discussion at the Church of England's House of Bishops meeting in York during the last couple of days made it abundantly clear that, if we didn't know it already, we have already embarked on a very long election campaign. Yes, this week sees some local elections and elections to the European Parliament, but these seem a little like shadow boxing for the real thing in 2015.
We know how paralysing election campaigns are for the business of running the country intelligently, so this prospect isn't a happy one. We face a year of posturing and snarling. But, what are the fundamental questions we – especially, but not exclusively, the churches – should be putting to our election candidates?
Well, call me posh, but anyone can ask questions about unemployment, housing, welfare, banking reform, foreign aid, foodbanks, poverty, health and other important matters. Who is going to ask the questions that dig beneath the assumptions behind the likely answers the politicians will give us? These are not merely academic.
For example, quiz a politician about welfare, immigration or housing, and s/he will declare the appropriate party's policy. But what anthropology underpins it? In other words, what does he or she assume about why human beings essentially matter? What is his or her understandings of human value – as it is this that should give rise to the policy, and not vice versa. Yes, the policy might betray the value/assumption, but it is the latter that gives birth to the former.
So, why not ask every candidate what they think a human person is and why that person matters? This simple question, if pursued quietly and politely, will indicate whether the candidate is able to articulate the (what I would call) theological anthropology that shapes their world view. The answer to the question will indicate how they might, if consistent, think about social order, the common good and the value of the political process or discourse.
Of course, if anyone suggests that people matter because they do (which is frighteningly common), this should be seriously and humorously questioned. You can't get an 'ought' from and 'is', and mere existence cannot confer inherent value without some un-argued for assumptions being smuggled in.
This could be fun. And revealing. Bring on the campaign.