First published as a Guest Post on Think Theology on Friday 16 June 2017
The UK General Election has defied many of our expectations, and the electorate has now spoken in terms that are difficult for anyone to respond to. I’m not keen on the idea of a hung parliament, especially with difficult negotiations on Brexit lying up ahead. However, the immediate prospect of the people of Northern Ireland or Scotland voting to leave the United Kingdom has receded, for very different reasons. It also means that parliamentarians at Westminster will be obliged to talk and listen to each other rather more. This could lead to a Brexit deal that is better for the UK’s ongoing relationship with the European Union than seemed possible before the Election.
Following my list of some underlying major issues in my pre-Election blog, I felt rightly corrected in feedback received from readers for not having mentioned the needs of creation that can be found in the UK’s islands and overseas territories. In the Hustings that I chaired, all five parliamentary candidates united in championing the needs of the environment, which was a heartening boost locally on this same theme.
Some of the worst violence in British Election history brought campaigning to a halt twice. According to data in media reports, a total of 29 people were killed and 164 injured. It has tragically confirmed that the country has a complex problem, both for those who are not Muslims and for those who are. Use of a selective list of so-called British values, that is intended to counter radicalised thinking of any hue, is insufficient to counter such a strong spiritual problem.
While a list of values by definition addresses what is important to those who have composed it, a values-based approach to countering radicalisation is liable to catch in its net many people who are innocent of violent extremism. With no trace of irony evident in the entries revealed, a search in this past week of the Green Party’s website yielded 1,100 results for some delighted use of the word ‘radical’.
Somewhere around four years ago, I thought up an ‘interest in politics’ triangle which helps to explain an added dimension in operation in democratic nations. There used to be a one-dimensional world of politics, as described in the media at least, with ‘left’ at one end and ‘right’ at the other. Tony Blair came to power in the UK, for instance, by successfully identifying the need to occupy thoroughly the middle of that spectrum. Now, you can be a centre party trying to occupy the wide-open middle area of the line and still not pick up more than 7% of the votes, as the Liberal Democrats have just shown.
The single-dimensional political spectrum that we grew up with is now more complicated by having become more like a triangle. People of the political left and right are still there – at least they and much of the media seem to think so – but there is now an important top corner in the triangle that can be called ‘none’. That corner refers to potential voters who have no interest in politics at all.
While disinterest in party politics goes back a very long way, the battling politicians have steadily created over the past twenty years or so an increasing number of alienated voters who are neither very left nor very right – and who do not very readily trust those politicians who, having been in government, are already established as household names.
Politicians and their parties who can appeal to the alienated middle of the triangle have done well, at least for a time. That is where UKIP under Nigel Farage found their votes. It is where relative outsiders like Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron won enough votes to help them get elected. While the people in the middle section tend not to think of themselves as unchangeably left or right, they can turn out and vote and help sway elections if they feel some politician is talking their language.
Meanwhile, much of the political class continues its Punch and Judy act along the bottom line of the triangle, as though that it is the only political world there is, at times sneering at or baffled by ‘populists’ who for some inexplicable reason appeal to the masses. The relatively unpoliticised voters at the centre of the triangle can be rather horrified by this continuing show but are the key to the coming elections, until some third dimension develops that makes the scene yet more complicated.