C of E letter urging people to vote on 7 May laments ‘growing appetite to exploit grievances, find scapegoats and create barriers between people and nations’
Esther Addley Guardian/UK 17 February 2015
The Church of England has launched a strongly worded attack on Britain’s political culture, criticising politicians of all parties for offering only “sterile arguments” that are likely to make voters more apathetic and cynical in the runup to the general election.
In an unprecedented intervention, the church’s bishops have published a joint open letter warning that “our democracy is failing” and attacking the “growing appetite to exploit grievances” and “find scapegoats” in society. They call for “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be”.
It is the first time the bishops have intervened in this way before a general election, but one said the church had felt the need to counter the “sex appeal” of people such as Russell Brand, who have argued that people should disengage from Westminster politics.
Text of Church of England bishops' pastoral letter for 2015 general election
House of bishops has published a letter calling for a new direction in political life and urging people to vote on 7 May. While the bishops insist the letter is not targeted at any party in particular and criticise successive administrations for political failings, the 52-page document can be read as an indirect criticism of the government’s welfare policies.
“There is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed,” the bishops write.
When those who rely on social security “are all described in terms that imply they are undeserving, dependent and ought to be self-sufficient”, the language deters others from offering informal support that in turn could relieve the welfare budget.
It is “game-playing”, they add, “to claim that anyone who cares about the impact of austerity on the most vulnerable members of society is … careless about the extent of national indebtedness”.
Britain has become “a society of strangers” and “individualism has tended to estrange people from one another”, proof of which could be seen in “the extent of loneliness in society today with the attendant problems of mental and physical health”.
They give credit to political leaders “that the impact of the [financial] crisis has been less severe in Britain than in some other European countries”, but argue that “the greatest burdens of austerity have not been borne by those with the broadest shoulders”. Instead, the less well off “have not been adequately protected from the impact of recession”.
But the letter also calls for a return of the values of the “big society”, which the bishops say was dreamed up by “thoughtful Conservatives” who drew “from earlier Christian tradition”. “The ideals the big society stood for … could still be the foundation for the new approach to politics, economics and community which we seek,” they write.
See also http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/22/norwich-capital-church-of-england-campaign-country-conscience-justin-welby