The outcome of the General Election on May 7 turned out to be a surprise to a great many people. One news report described pundits of the British political scene as being ‘gobsmacked’ by the Conservative victory, which returned David Cameron to No. 10 Downing Street with an overall majority in the House of Commons. At the same time, many voters who had hoped for change were bitterly disappointed, and some deeply apprehensive, even fearful, about their future and the country’s.
On the day of his victory, the Prime Minister stood in front of the TV cameras and said, “As I said in the small hours of this morning, we will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom. That means ensuring this recovery reaches all parts of our country from north to south, from east to west. It means giving everyone in our country a chance so no matter where you are from you have the opportunity to make the most of your life.”
Whatever our views, or however we voted, Christians must surely be in agreement with this sentiment, and hope and pray that the new Government will indeed fulfil this stirring pledge. But we will also want to be vigilant and hold them to it, especially in view of the fact that many of the Conservatives’ election manifesto promises pointed in a rather different direction. Can a Government really claim to be a ‘One Nation’ Government, if it continues the trend of the last decade, which has seen growing inequality in our society as the mega-rich have become even richer, while most ordinary people have seen their incomes fall in real terms? What’s needed is not a promise of no tax rises, but a fiscal system which does more to redistribute wealth. Many people are seriously worried that further privatisation of the NHS will put basic health care beyond the reach of those who can’t afford private health insurance. Many in the legal profession believe that further cuts in legal aid provision will make it impossible for ordinary people to afford proper legal representation. How can we call ourselves ‘One Nation’ if the justice system works for the rich, and not for the rest of us?
We may also applaud the Government’s stated desire to make work, for those who can work, more rewarding than living on benefits. But it has tried to achieve this aim in ways that have disadvantaged some of the most vulnerable. For example, the so-called ‘bedroom tax’, which penalises people who continue to live in the same rented home after their children have grown up and left home. It may have been intended to free up housing for people who need it, but it results in a hard-hearted pressure for tenants to leave a home they may have lived in for much of their lives, and often without providing adequate alternatives. This has tended to advantage private landlords at the expense of the tenants. Again, how can we describe this as a ‘One Nation’ policy?
St Paul urges “that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for [rulers] and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2.1-2) Or perhaps, as the Prime Minister said, so as to give ‘everyone in our country a chance so no matter where they are from they have the opportunity to make the most of their life.’ We will indeed pray for the new Government, and yes, maybe pray that they break some of their manifesto promises, in order to fulfil this more beautiful pledge of being a ‘One Nation’ Government which takes seriously its calling to govern for the good of all.