The eve of election. A while back I was unsure whether I was going to be able to vote. I thought and prayed, and I am now settled on a candidate that will get my vote.
The big debate in the media however is less about which candidates will win, than about what sort of government will be formed from the blocks and splinters of party representation that emerge.
If Labour have the biggest number of MPs they could legitimately try to form a coalition with others. From the election rhetoric it seems that they’d rather not team up with the SNP. They might try a pact with the Lib-Dems, assuming the nagging resentment of the student tuition debacle doesn’t reduce that party to a powerless rump.
If the Conservatives have the advantage will the Lib-Dems again throw their lot in with them and risk further displeasure from their more left-leaning supporters? Or will Ukip have enough MPs to edge a minority Tory grouping into an uneasy government?
The next 48hrs will see endless speculation on who will be the power brokers, and what mixture of hues will come together to run the country. It seems most likely though that whatever that mix may be it will involve small parties with policies that do not have general support exercising significant bargaining power in the make up of the next government, which will make few voters happy.
The only possibility I don’t hear touted is the one that to me would most likely represent the will of the greatest number of voters, and perhaps most closely show the benefits of the Catholic concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity.
To listen to the election slogans one might think that politics is a battle between two forces, on the Left the call for ‘the government’ to do things, fix things, become involved: something must be done, and the government should do it. On the Right is posited the ‘small government’ approach. Individuals have a responsibility to look after themselves, and the devil take the hindmost. Both are caricatures, and both polarise almost any political debate irrespective of what proposals or arguments are actually being made. You hear the antagonistic tone in almost every exchange. Why?
As Peter Smith and Mary Clarkson have shown here in their manifesto blogs, people of good will can quite legitimately hold different opinions of how to best look after the country. There is no single answer to problems in the way that party leaflets would like us to believe. It’s more fun for the media, but it doesn’t bring us to the optimal solution.
Taking the caricatures above, you can dimly perceive the Catholic principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. These are frequently presented in political discourse as opposites, but in fact they are complementary, and inseparable.
The Church tells us that “socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor amongst themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples”. (CCC1941)
It also makes it clear that “the principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonising the relationships between individuals and societies.” (CC1885)
Both subsidiarity and solidarity are therefore necessary in Catholic life, as well as Catholic political life. It is the intertwining of the two that make us properly able to exercise the full potential for good that we have. And the glue that holds the two together in positive tension is charity; the love of God and of neighbour. As the Catechism puts it “Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving.” (CCC1889).
Our new government needs to balance the individual and the societal, the working together and the personal responsibility. Both those facets have to be present for things to work effectively.
So, the greatest good for us all is when those forces balance and work in creative tension. Why not then a coalition of the parties that represent the largest parts of the electorate; that emphasise inside themselves the two complementarities of the Common Good, and hold at bay the tails that would wag the dog? A Labour/Conservative Coalition – a real catholic Coalition.
Whatever the outcome of the next few days, let us all pray that those who lead us after the ballots have been counted and the dust has settled do so with the grace and inspiration of charity.