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From the archive

Peter Cousins

Voting matters for at least three reasons. (1) Through voting we contribute to an important collective decision, namely who shall exercise the powers of government. (2) The act of voting symbolizes an elector's right to participate in the whole political process. (3) The voting decision itself obliges me to pass judgment on the country's rulers and aspirant rulers.

In reaching that decision there are three major directions in which a Christian should look, to God and his truth as revealed in the Bible, to the world about us, and within at our own attitudes and motives. We look to the Scriptures not because they contain any clear political catechism but because the fundamental truths they teach must underlie our approach to politics. They say that government is the major social institution through which God sustains justice in this world. They affirm the breadth and depth of Divine concern for justice. They reveal God as sovereign, at work in his world in all sorts of surprising ways, not only through the church or even through Christian people. Political leadership is among the great gifts he gives to many non-Christians.

Our decision as voters must be influenced by what we learn about the world around us. When the Old Testament prophets spoke the word of the Lord, they did so on the basis of a sharp understanding of the world about them. Having a good general grasp of what is going on enables us to weigh the claims of the political parties, noting what manifestoes omit as well as what they promise.

The Christian voter must also do some self-examination. In general the parties appeal to the voter's sense of personal advantage but Christians must vote unselfishly. How and why we decide is therefore an indicator of the degree to which we are truly followers of Jesus. Voting simply according to perceived personal benefit is plain sin. How I decide this time (compared perhaps to last time) shows where I have reached on the pathway of Christian discipleship.

Applying this involves scrutinizing policies and people. In terms of policies there is now no large ideological distance between the Labour and Conservative parties. The differences are generally ones of emphasis. Is the balance between the public and private sector about right or do we want further privatization? Is the case for reducing taxation stronger than that for increasing public expenditure? These are the kind of questions we face in 1992.

What about the party leaders? They may say that what matters is policies not personalities, but we need some reassurance about ability and integrity. Do the national team appear competent to carry through what they claim? What is their record? Are they in politics for what they can get out of it, perhaps seeing political office as a prelude to richer pickings in industry or the City? Finally what about the constituency candidates? Some may deserve my support because the House of Commons and their party would definitely be worse off without them. Where we must choose between people whose standards of decency, honesty and integrity really vary, this should influence our decision.

Hopefully the articles in this issue of Third Way will help readers make up their minds. My vote will be cast in a 'safe' Conservative seat. I believe the parliamentary party would definitely be the worse without our member, but I think it is time he experienced the freedom of the opposition benches. Like many of his party colleagues, he has not yet enjoyed that freedom! Opposition, it has been said, gives a party the opportunity to find its soul again - and after almost thirteen years in office that is something which might benefit the Conservative Party.

'An important decision' first appeared as our editorial in March 1992.