03 March 2015
Can I vote for a party when I fundamentally disagree with something they stand for?
It is privilege to be able to vote for a member of parliament, and the fact we get that chance isn't something we should take lightly. We have the freedom to vote for whichever party we want to, and if we don't like those on offer, we can stand for election ourselves. Democracy has many challenges, but this is its premise – we get to decide what happens, and in the UK the way that works is by deciding who represents us. So the fact we can vote for a party we agree with or disagree with, and get to choose, is something to be cherished.
Given this opportunity, the broader question to consider is: how should we decide who to vote for? And in answering this we will take many different approaches. We might vote for the person who represents the party with the leader we most want to be Prime Minister or we might vote for a party our family has always opted for, or who we particularly identify with. We may take time to consider the specific policies and track-record of the parties, and try and make a decision for which party is best. And most likely we'll adopt a combination of these approaches. For some the decision is a historical one that they stick with through the ups and downs of that party's fortunes, whereas many consider it afresh each time they come to vote.
You will undoubtedly disagree strongly with something every party stands for. It's often quipped that if you were to vote for a party you completely agreed with, it would have to be your own party with you as leader, sole member and only voter. I'm not so sure about that – I don't even agree with myself all the time. So the question to consider is not whether we vote for a party that stands for something we'd rather they didn't, but which issues are most important for us, and which party's policies and performance most closely aligns to that.
The political parties know this: electioneering is less about persuading voters that their policies are the best and more about defining the turf the election is fought on. For this coming election, the Conservatives will want to concentrate on the economy and creation of jobs, while Labour will want the focus to be on the NHS. If they can ensure discussion revolves around issues they are confident on, they know their chances of success are higher.
Our Faith in politics? research found that evangelical Christians have quite a distinct profile when it comes to the issues they consider most important. The issues of freedom of expression and religious belief, poverty alleviation, human trafficking, same-sex marriage and euthanasia are most important, while race and immigration –the top concern for the general public –ranked considerably lower. In fact, measures to reduce immigration are more likely to put off evangelical voters.
At first glance this could provide a neat crib sheet for deciding who to vote for – simply assess the parties' positions and record on these issues and cast your vote accordingly. The problem is it doesn't lead to an obvious answer – and that's assuming these are the only issues integral to casting a vote;education, health and foreign affairs are all absent from this list. If you want a party opposed to same-sex marriage then you might want to vote for UKIP, but even their opposition has been rather ambivalent. All the parties have supported legislation against human trafficking, and spoken up – but not always acted – in defence of religious freedom. On poverty alleviation there's certainly differentiation, but this issue being important leads to the next question: what should be done about poverty? And there the parties disagree, and so do the voters.
Simplistic answers are a killer in politics, and likewise there's no simple answer to this question. If you want a simple answer from a politician they'll often give you one, but it will sweep up complexity into a sound bite designed to snag your attention and vote. There will be a story left untold, plenty of questions left unanswered. It would be just like that for Christians to take a single aspect of disagreement and make that their sole criteria for voting or not voting for a candidate. If we do that, we could end up voting for someone we agree with on one thing but not anything else.
Politics is full of difficult and complex decisions, and choosing who to vote for is one of them. It is inevitable that we'll have pretty strong disagreements with whoever we vote for, but the challenge is what we do about that. And the bits of that party you like the least? There is only one effective way to change those, and that's to get involved with the party and make a difference.