This Easter I have been re reading the Anglican Bishops letter for the General Election. It doesn’t make better reading the second time round. Rather it does now seem even more unfair and inaccurate given how the economy has developed.
The Bishops main case is that all the political parties have failed, hence the need for their intervention. They tell us “The problem is no-one in politics today has a convincing story about a healthy balance between national government and global economic power”. “Our democracy is failing because successive administrations have done little to address the trends which are most influential in shaping ordinary people’s lives”.
I thought one of the big arguments in this election is just that balance between the state and the private sector, with different visions and versions from Conservative, Labour and SNP/Green. All the main parties think they are addressing the issues that most worry people, in their own way. Conservatives have put through a change to get multinationals to pay their fair share of profits tax. Labour wants to place further controls and taxes on big business.
This aggressive attack on all politicians and parties may be popular, but as I expected there is no evidence that the Church is going to put up candidates to show us how to do it, and little evidence that the Church has found an agenda which can unite electors and get them enthusiatically going to the polls where the parties in the Church’s words “fail”.
So what are these trends in “ordinary people’s lives”, as the Church somewhat disdainfully calls us?
The first is rising unemployment which the Church says we have been experiencing since 2010 (p46). It is a pity they were unable to read the official figures which show great progress in cutting unemployment since 2010, and a pity they seem unaware that tackling nunemployment has been a central priority of the last government. Nor did the Opposition disagree with the aim. The argument is over how best to carry on cutting unemployment, and over how to ensure the jobs are well paid.
The second is their allegation of rising inequality.On page 49 the Church says we need to halt the move towards more inequality of wealth. On page 33 they wrongly state that material inequality continues to widen. Once again they failed to read the national official statistics. The Gini coefficient, a recognised measure of inequality,was at 34.7 in 2006-7 and has fallen since then under the coalition, where a lower figure means less inequality. The richest have made the biggest contribution to getting the deficit down through a substantial rise in the tax they pay.
The third is the Church’s belief that we need to share a cultural identity with the EU, not with the Commonwealth or other global groupings. Page 30 seems to be an attack on Eurosceptic opinion. There is no mention anywhere in the tract of the huge damage being done by the Euro, by the EU austerity policies and the high energy costs that come from Brussels. Nor is there any sympathy for the unemployed on the continent or anger about the mass unemployment in some continental countries, and the especially high youth unemployment, let alone any suggested remedies.
I do think Bishops should set themselves higher standards of drafting and evidence before sounding off on these very sensitive issues. Have they yet had time to research the true trends of unemployment here and on the continent? Have they yet checked their facts on inequality and who is paying the extra taxes? Will they correct their mistakes?
It would be good if the Bishops recognised that Conservatives set out to create the conditions in which the economy generates more jobs and better paid jobs, as we wish to tackle poverty vigorously. Their absurd caricature of the Thatcher years is too wrong to be able to rebut in a sensible space. I want to live in a prosperous society where there is opportunity for all and decent state support for those in need.