I remember the night well. It was March 1981 and I received a phone call from a fellow political activist in the Labour party asking me to come to a particular venue to prepare for the launch of a new political party – the Social Democratic Party. I was a member of the Labour party but like many others had had enough of the extremist Marxist takeover that had taken place in my party. Our hopes were high, and we began well, but ultimately we failed and Britain continued on its Thatcherite/Blairite/Cameronite way.
When I became a Free Church minister in 1986 I was not a member of any political party and believed that as a minister it was better for me not to be a member of any party. I have always kept party politics out of the pulpit and the pulpit out of party politics (I am no Iain Paisley!). Although I did become a supporter of the SNP and the cause of Scottish Independence.
Over the past three decades, like many, I have become increasingly disillusioned with politics and political leaders – it seems to me that they have all morphed into more or less the same creature – with the exception of the far right and far left who seem to be providing the only alternatives to the elitist bubble that our politicians live in. Over the years I have voted SNP (usually) but also Green, Labour, Lib-Dem, Scottish Socialist and even Conservative! I now vote for the candidates who come closest to my views, rather than any party – although even they are becoming increasingly hard to come by – as candidates just become lobby fodder rather than free thinkers.
I have been particularly disappointed in the SNP – who have moved from being a somewhat ramshackle party to one of the tightest and most authoritarian in the Western world. As its membership has dramatically increased it has become more like a cult than a political party, where no dissent is permitted. It has adopted the self-styled ‘liberal progressive’ policies of our cultural elites without question. It’s one party, one state, one police, one doctrine, one leader. And it has destroyed its main purpose, the independence of the Scottish nation, by its fanatical devotion to the EU – thus threatening to take us out of one union into an even larger and more undemocratic one. To watch the SNP complain about the Tories sell out on fisheries whilst they themselves have a policy which commits Scotland to belong to the EU and thus the CFP is nauseating in its hypocrisy. To watch the followers just buy into that (as they do every meme/dictat sent out from party HQ) is only confirmation of the cult like status of the Party.
So I’ve had enough of party politics and thought I would never join a political party again. Until this week. I’ve rejoined the renewed SDP – why? Largely because it reflects my political views. I am a democrat who believes in the nation-state and not supranationalism. I believe that we should have a welfare state and free enterprise. I would rather be governed by politicians we elect than technocrats we don’t. I despise fascism and the ultra right – and believe that the political elites by listening only to themselves are driving people into their arms. The far left are as bad, if not worse than the far right. Both cultivate the politics of identity and hate.
As I watch the political class ignore and dismantle the biggest democratic vote in UK history I despair for my country. As I watch a Conservative Prime Minister adopt the most extremist identity politics in human history in order to appear ‘nice’, I despair. As I watch a Labour party which has abandoned the working class and become the champagne socialist party with more than a tinge of anti-Semitism, I despair. As I watch a Liberal party totally in hoc to the EU and unable to permit a Christian to be its leader, I despair. As I watch the SNP become the EUNP and the most extremist kind of ‘progressive’ party, I despair. As I see the Far Right and Left grow in popularity as the people despair of their politicians, I despair.
And then I read this New Declaration – here are a few examples.
We hold that the old Labour/Conservative duopoly is harming our nation. The Conservative party has conserved very little and instead, has put everything up for sale. Labour has abandoned the nation’s working men and women. To preserve what is best in our nation Westminster must change. Our outdated voting system stifles political competition and denies new entrants a chance to contribute. As a result, people rightly feel powerless, with their voices ignored at Westminster. Reform of Britain’s broken political system is long overdue, and we will be at the forefront of reinvigorating democratic politics.
We hold that public services such as education and the NHS have been badly let down by the two-party system. Labour and Conservative governments have produced wild swings in expenditure with periods of unsustainable spending followed by periods of austerity.
We consider the nation-state to be the upper limit of democracy. Along with the family, we regard it as indispensable to the solidarity of our society and concern for our fellow citizens. We regard supranationalism as a neoliberal ideology aimed at neutering domestic politics and placing the most important issues beyond the reach of ordinary voters. The European Union or any other supranational entity is not – and will never be – a social democratic enterprise.
We believe a stable and secure family life – with support from the extended family and the community – to be the foundation of society and critical to raising responsible citizens. It is in the home where we first learn the virtues of obligation, compassion and concern for others which transcend self-interest. And yet successive governments have been powerless in resisting an epidemic of family breakdown which has caused widespread suffering and has harmed the life-chances of millions of children.
Government must defend and support family life whenever possible, particularly in welfare and economic policy, education and housing. We will shelter British families from the economic and social pressures fracturing our society, and rebuild a prosperous and happier nation with policies that place the working family at the heart of national life.
Of course these are all just words and I am not naive enough to think that any of our political parties will be our salvation, but I am a democrat and I live in a democratic country. I have a duty to vote and to seek to influence those votes. As a Christian I am a realist, but I also have a duty to be involved.
Of course the SDP will not share all my views – but they do share many. I hope that on ‘moral’ issues they will permit people like me to express our viewpoints, even if we don’t agree. The Labour party no longer allows me to dissent on abortion. The Conservatives won’t let me dissent on SSM or Transgender. The Liberals are increasingly illiberal. And the SNP won’t let me dissent on anything! As a democratic party the SDP will allow different views to be expressed.
This does not mean that I will preach politics from the pulpit – I never have, and God forbid that I ever will. People of all political views and none will be welcome in Church. As a Christian I will continue to pray for the nation and ALL its politicians and people. As a citizen I will continue to vote and be political – for the good of the country and its people. I don’t care if I am not on the ‘winning side’ – I am happy to be one of the little people playing my role. And who knows maybe in the UK it will be new centrist democratic parties like the SDP, rather than the extremists, who will be the beneficiaries of the people’s despair at the cynical, cowardly, self-serving connivance of our political classes? We can only hope….