In their pastoral letter released prior to the 2015 general election, the Church of England’s bishops attempt to offer guidance to Anglicans as they prepare to vote. ‘Who is my Neighbour?’, they ask, just as the lawyer in Luke 10:25-37 does. Having correctly answered that the law requires him to love God and love his neighbour (see ‘the greatest commandment’), the lawyer finds his concept of neighbourliness called into question. Perhaps this election we need to do likewise.
Like most on the left, I have mixed feelings about the upcoming election. Initially I welcomed it as a chance to remove a regressive government, however there is a key piece of information that necessitates caution: early elections are called when the party in control feel they stand a better chance of winning now than they do later. This could be for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they plan some awful new policy post-election that will see their popularity drop, or perhaps they fear a resurgence in the opposition for whatever reason. Or perhaps they fear that prosecution of a number of their MPs for election fraud will cause them to lose power. Who knows?
What we do know is that the Tories are masters of propaganda. Take for example, their carefully cultivated image as the party of sound economics, despite all evidence to the contrary. Somehow, they still convince enough people that their policies which demonise, criminalise, and otherwise oppress the weakest and most vulnerable, are the best we can do, and as much as I may wish to draw attention to this, it is their ideology which really needs consideration.
Like David Cameron before her, Theresa May considers herself a one-nation conservative. One-nation conservatives ostensibly recognise some of the issues facing working class and minority people, believing that those with power have a duty to help them. Inherently this means a hierarchical and paternalistic approach to lack of opportunity and injustice. At the same time, neoliberalism, an ideology centred on the realisation of free-markets, has become the norm for mainstream British politics. This means that privatisation is introduced wherever the government feel they can get away with it. From the NHS to public transport, all is up for grabs. Supposedly this increases competition which then drives up standards, but the real effect is a reduction in the quality of service provided, a reduction in wages and workers’ rights, obscene levels of waste, an increase in the disparity between rich and poor… the list goes on. There are some things about one-nation conservatism and neoliberalism that do not easily go together, however perhaps the chiefest of those which do, is authoritarianism.
This is reflected in the decision to call a general election now. The Conservatives believe they have an opposition in Jeremy Corbyn who is weak, and this represents an opportunity for them to consolidate their power, opening the floodgates for further implementation of the poisonous policies that have crippled those on the margins of society.
After he is asked the question ‘who is my neighbour?’, Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man is stripped, robbed, beaten, and left ‘half dead’. He is seen by two people of high social and religious standing, but it is the hated Samaritan who shows mercy. ‘Go and do likewise’, Jesus says to the lawyer in Luke 10:25-37, but for all her posturing as the vicar’s daughter, Theresa May is not the Samaritan in this story, for when the bishops remind us that this is a ‘Christian obligation’, she has already crossed over the road. Whichever way you plan to vote on the 8th June, please for the love of God, remember the love of the Good Samaritan as you head to the polling station that day.