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When Even Credible Alternatives Aren't Enough...

In yesterday's county council election I cast my vote based on what I believed was a 'credible alternative' to the BNP rather than the candidate I would ordinarily have chosen.  At one point yesterday a lovely black guy was taking timbers off the roof of the former chapel whilst a car saying 'vote BNP' sat opposite.  I could have wept.  I studied the list of candiates, thought what happened in the district council elections two years ago, and voted for the person I thought was most likely to stand a chance of being elected - I was right, she came second, but we still ended up with a BNP councillor, and I am very much saddened.

Yes, I believe in freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, but I also believe in truth, justice, freedom, mutual respect and responsibility.  I know there is an Anglican church at roughly D-1 with vocal BNP sympathisers, and both my Anglican collague and I have from the pulpit called on people to vote responsibly and avoid being beguiled by the lure of extremism (without breaking any laws of course!).  Even at our churches together meeting we touched on this topic.

Tonight I am sad.  I am sad for my Barbadean church member (though thankfully he doesn't live in this ward).  I am sad for the black guy who works so hard next door.  I am sad for the Chinese folk who run the takeway round the corner, the black TA at school and the Poles who work in the meat factory.   Above all I am sad for the 27% or so of those who voted who were beguiled or bewildered enough to vote as they did.

Now that our representation on both district and county councils is by extremists we find ourselves essentially silenced: the churches (rightly) tell us not to engage with these people, but who know can speak for us at council level?

Lord have mercy upon us all.




  • Hi Catriona,

    I drop by your blog from time to time and for the most I enjoy the comments that you make. Every cup comes stirred with at least one or two spoonfuls of reality.

    Anyway, I was reflecting on this entry and on a comment I made to a young Christian recently, which was effectively that our political involvement doesn't end at the ballot box but rather it begins there.

    What, though, I'm thinking does that mean when your elected representatives don't represent your views, your values, you at all?

    Could it mean, if nothing else, that they are now obliged as your representative to hear your views?

    As difficult as it may be, and acknowledging that it could be easily misunderstood, is part of your response to the election to begin a conversation?

    Please tell me what you think.

  • Like you, I am saddened by the number who voted for the BNP. Apparently their strongest support is in the East Midlands.
    Don't give up!

  • Thanks Ashley and Angela for your comments.

    Ashley - I think you may well be right that now we can't simply refuse to engage with these people - but I'd want to speak to someone like Graham Sparkes first so that if (when?) any such engagement was misunderstood or, worse, misappropriated, the necessary back-up would be there. Prophetic engagement is risky and most of us are risk averse - me speaking on a Sunday might get a few mutterings but it won't get us in the papers; speaking to extremists almost certainly would. Maybe the JPIT need to begin to think this one through.

    I may also try to make contact with ministers in and around Padiham to see how they are responding - in once sense it is helpful not being the only set of Christians in this predicament.

  • Catriona - thanks for your reply.

    Just thinking about the whole challenge of being misunderstood. It seems to me that Jesus was ready to take that chance, mixing with prostitutes and other alleged undesirables, and not even defending himself when others criticised him. (Indeed he turned the criticism back on them.)

    That's not to say we shouldn't make the effort to be above reproach in the eyes of the world. While it's not for us to defend God's honour, it is for us to do what we can to avoid bringing his church into disrepute.

    Talking to the other ministers (as you suggest) is probably the best strategy. Like you they will understand the situation on the ground in a far better way than the rest of us. Even those wise and helpful people in Didcot.

    IMHO any approach you make to your new councillor should be done in partnership with others. At the same time, it should probably always be with the full knowledge of your church family. Even if you think you write or go on your own behalf people will always presume that you speak for the church. They need to know even if they aren't all happy.

    Obviously keeping a record of everything you write or say (verbatim records, for example) will provide the best comeback. And while you might be wary of the local press, with care and wisdom they could also be useful allies.

    Catriona, I don't envy you at all, however I can't help wondering whether (even though it's not your choice) your situation allows you to demonstrate the inclusive nature of the gospel in a genuinely counter-cultural way.

    God bless you as you weigh up and pray through a gospel response to the recent election result.

  • Thanks again Ashley, very wise advice methinks.

    Hopefully all the churches in the (now) three affected wards/areas whatever can find constructive ways to move forward. Hopefully the European election results will not add to this quandry...

  • Off to Faith and Unity this week with aforementioned Graham Sparks and Rosemary Kidd of JPIT ... is it ok to pass on the comments here?

  • Hi Craig,
    It would be great if you could raise this issue (what day are you down at Didcot? I might bump into you at lunchtime if Wednesday!)

    Going back a couple of years to when we had a planning application in, it was rejected on first submission in the last Planning Committee just before the district council elections in 2007. AT those elections our representation changed from staunch labour to an odd mish-mash - one BNP and one (white) Conservative (I only note colour because the black conservative came way down the rankings, so I think race was a clear issue here). When working to amend and resubmit our plans, we and our professional advisers made a conscious decision not to seek support from the local councillors, and that if the application looked likely to fail we would definitely not approach the BNP man for help. Fortunately the plans went through on the nod (the whole thing having been political anyway) but we had glimpsed the costs of taking a stand.

    At county level we now have only the BNP man (as it happens the same person) and although county issues affect us less directly, we do for example partner with Leicestershire Social Services for our lunch club. In the unlikely event that funding came under threat who would speak for us? What consequences might silence or engagement bring?

    At yesterday's service during the sermon I mentioned my sorrow at the election of a BNP candidate in our ward. One of the folk visiting from the church who were sharing with us said 'oh don't worry, they'll never get a serious foothold' yet clearly in last night's Euro elections they have beguiled 9% of East Midlands voters.

    I would appreciate any words of wisdom from Faith & Unity and/or JPIT. Thank you for being willing to advocate for us.

    PS sorry, this is almost post length!

  • I wonder whether councillors in neighbouring wards might be willing to speak for you on County matters. I know the local member can huff and puff about others speaking on behalf of their constituents and County Wards are much larger, but the main thing is having a voice.

    I believe your district ward does have two councillors, both of whom represent your patch even if they live in different bits. As one of these is from a mainstream party, I'd suggest you relate to that one on district matters.

    We had a discussion in a recent ministers' gathering as one of our number had been at an official event and noticed the local BNP councillor on his own. Having a pastoral heart, he wondered what was the Christian thing to do? Should the minister not reach up into the 'sycamore tree' and extend a hand to the rejected human being who God loves despite everything? We understood and felt the dilemma, but also felt the need to be as wise as serpents as well as innocent as doves.

    At a public event the individual was in the role of party politician and the minister was also a representative figure. Photographs of such innocent encounters can easily find their way onto party websites and other publicity and lend further credence to an abhorrent ideology.

    Just a quick psephological reflection - the collapse of the Labour vote in a former Labour heartland seems to be one of the key factors here. The ward where the BNP got elected was the one with the lowest turnout - traditional Labour voters staying at home? As you say, for evil to triumph it's only necessary for people (good, bad - or like the rest of us somewhere in between) to do nothing.

    Lots more to say on this, but you are all in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Hi Andy,
    thanks for your thoughts (written and off-line). As you rightly note (and I alluded to in one of my comments) we do at District level have one mainstream councillor. At one point we did try to discuss what it meant if we chose to relate to one and not the other, but maybe others have no such qualms? And maybe it doesn't really matter.

    Hopefully wiser (or 'wider' as I typed first time around!) heads than mine (i.e. F&U, JPIT) will come up with some advice and guidance.

  • Re the district reps, I think the moderate majority on any local authority would recognise and respect your reasons for relating to one ward councillor and not the other. It's fairly common and where there was more than one I always used to advise people to contact the ward councillor who they felt most comfortable with.

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