Those who were disappointed that the Pope's recent address failed to offer a spiritual perspective on the current economic recession will doubtless be delighted with the pronouncements of the 5 bishops reported in today's Telegraph. Hard to find much to argue with in what they say although the timing does seem a little opportunistic. But in the interests of balance:
I spent a fair amount of my working life in Government. Not as a politician but a civil servant. Politicians I found on the whole did not enter political life for the sake of their egos and certainly not for the money. But somewhere along the way most appear to lose the plot. Why is that? I'll offer two thoughts.
a. Governing the UK is not easy. In fact I'd say it's becoming impossible. How do you balance the need for wealth creation with redistribution; or employment rights with the need to lighten regulatory burdens; with the social issues which arise from an increasingly diverse population; with environmental and sustainability concerns against the fact that many "Green" policies could impact adversely on those with low incomes? Lots of these dilemmas are not new but resolving them without being confronted with a whole set of new problems is a hell of a challenge.
b. As the complexity of government increases so does the burden of expectation of those in government. This is not helped at election time when political parties appear to offer the earth at no extra cost to the taxpayer. Indeed many will offer to reduce taxes and deliver more and better public services. If we add to the tendency to over-promise and under-deliver the other election-winning ploys that are often trotted out and which are frequently drawn round a more moral agenda (back to basics campaigns, politicians pictured with their families) then the scope for disappointment is huge. No politician will be elected if they offer a less rosy picture of life when they get into power. So when (not if) they fail to live up to their own hype the all-round sense of failure is hardly a surprise. Nobody learns anything: next election the stakes are raised because the promises become ever more extravagant.
If we are to mix politics and religion then I have two suggestions to make. Firstly politicians need to be more honest with the electorate about what they can and cannot do. The scale of ambition should be about the art of the possible with a clear warning that they cannot do it on their own. The country as a whole needs to play its part. From these modest beginnings they may be able to re-engage a cynical electorate.
For the church I'd prefer the message to be that there is more to life than just politics and to take back that dimension that we have entrusted to politicians and which they are palpably incapable of delivering. A message along those lines rather than the offer of political capital to an ill-deserving opposition party would certainly have got my vote.