The following letter appeared in last Friday’s “Church Times”, but should be of interest to people of all faiths and none if they believe in democracy.
It was written by Colin Buchanan, retired Bishop and former President of the Electoral Reform Society.
“The Church of England customarily does not instruct people how to vote, does not support any one political party, and rarely condemns the policy of any party. So our leaders urge us to know what the parties’ policies are, to make up our minds responsibly, and then to vote in accord with our consciences. The House of Bishops in 2015 classically advised us thus. And, local Churches, often ecumenically, provide hustings; we are indeed responsible democrats.
“I submit this is but motherhood and apple pie. The fourth of our five ‘Marks of Mission’ reads ‘To seek to transform unjust structures of society’. And, bluntly, we currently elect by a very unjust structure indeed. Two years ago 36.9% of the voters gave David Cameron an overall majority, conferring on him total sovereign power. Theresa May bids fair to repeat this. And when a government unwanted by 63% of the voters has gained power, it claims a ‘mandate’ to fulfil its manifesto.
“But cannot voters change their minds, and non-voters be persuaded to register and vote? Yes, but they are unlikely to make any difference. In 2015 three smaller political parties gained almost 25% of the votes between them and won 10 seats out of 650. Voting for them was largely a waste of votes. And voting for either of the two leading parties in the 300 or more ‘safe’ seats also has no effect. Our exhortations to get out and vote responsibly are dangerously near to deceit.
“People in glass houses should not throw stones. But the Church of England does not here occupy a glass house; we use the fairest system of voting known – the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. It is also in use in Northern Ireland and in Scottish local council elections, and it not only produces true proportions in the governing bodies, but it also enables voters to choose between individuals as well as parties and their votes will not be wasted. Sadly, our own use of it is not well advertised – we are in the unusual position of practising but not preaching.
“My opposition to the present unjust system does not run to boycotting it. But surely those urging responsible voting could qualify their advocacy by saying ‘Yes, it is an unjust system; we need to change it; but don’t let that stop you voting.’ And the protest should continue.”