Monday, 3 May 2010

On Thursday I will vote. I can honestly say that my mind is not yet made up although it is also fair to say that I live in a constituency where my vote will not make much difference. A goat wearing a blue rosette would probably be returned with a 10,000 majority. No disrespect to the sitting MP who does a pretty good job but this is not the sort of place that is ever likely to be other than "Con. Hold" when the results flash up on the screens on election night.
I have seriously tried to be a good citizen. In particular I have read the manifestos, watched the Leaders' Debates and read the papers. As a Christian I have been particularly struck by Choosing the Common Good, the booklet issued by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales which basically seems to argue for a public life that is underpinned by virtue and a concern for others.
We cannot pretend, too, that the state of public finances is other than a cause for great concern: as a country we are living well beyond our means and early action is needed to bring public spending under control. I have therefore looked hard to see who can set about delivering a stronger economy and social justice within the framework of repairing society.
I cannot support Labour. To begin with I believe they waged an illegal war against Iraq and in justifying their decisions, misled the country. There is blood on their hands and the passing of time only reinforces that belief. For the rest I can only direct you to this website which sets out so starkly the binge spending that has taken place since 1997. Government spending is set to double over 13 years, debt has more than doubled. Had spending kept in touch with inflation spending this year would have been a shade under £450bn. Instead it is heading for £700bn. Whilst there have been real improvements in health and education in line with their priorities I think the current administration has shown less than ideal levels of stewardship. An opportunity to deliver both sustainable and affordable improvements in our public services has been lost.
The debate about virtue in public life so admirably articulated in Choosing the Common Good has sadly been overshadowed by concerns about immigration which, after the economy, appears to have been the other big issue of the campaign. As a result I think the Conservative's ideas of "Big Society" (and by implication, Small Government) have not been sufficiently prominent. I suspect the Conservatives themselves concluded that people for the most part were not interested. However if the Conservatives were returned to Government I hope they would return to the concepts of "Big Society". Under Labour the state has become increasingly overbearing and has pursued an increasingly secular agenda. It is hard to see that another term of Labour would see any softening of tone or a change of direction.
For me the last challenge is balancing the need for tightening of belts with social justice. To this end it seems to me that the Liberal Democrats rather than the Conservatives have made a better case. Raising the income tax threshold to £10000 coupled with the programmes for tackling youth employment seem more than substantial than anything on offer from the Conservatives. Whilst, too, I think the Lib Dems plans to bear down on tax avoidance as a means of paying for their pledge to support the lowest paid are a triumph of hope over experience they are still considerably better than the Conservatives plans to raise billions from efficiency, plans which are patently laughable. So, expect a VAT increase (20% basic rate with some further widening of scope) whoever gets in to Government.
Nobody in this campaign appears to have demonstrated the leadership and vision that this country badly needs. On that basis a vote for 'None of the Above' would be a fairly verdict on each of the three main party leaders. Sadly that option is not available.
Rather then that chaos should descend on Friday I would not be sorry to see David Cameron in Government: but with a majority of 1-5 seats, dependent on Liberal Democrat support to see difficult measures through. In return for that support legislation would be brought in to reform the current electoral system. Because even if the Conservatives confound the polls , are returned with a working majority (30+) and 40% of the vote, they will probably have done so with less than 25% of the people actually voting for them. That's a democratic deficit which needs to be put right.