By Chris Whitehouse
Finding out the policies of individual candidates is an important duty for Catholic voters before putting a cross on the ballot paper
Labour is heading for a trouncing in the coming general election. For me, this is as welcome as it is self-deserved, because of the party’s unmitigated stupidity in allowing Jeremy Corbyn to seize the reins of power for the hard left, but it will rightly cause concern for many readers of this column.
Because of Jeremy Corbyn’s incompetence and extremism, his cult-like Momentum movement and his blatantly manipulative dominance by Len McCluskey of the Unite trade union, there could be a loss of many sound, sensible and compassionate Labour members as collateral damage.
Nor, despite its support for the strong and stable leadership offered by Theresa May and her Conservative Party in Parliament, does this column pretend all would be well under a Conservative Government with a substantial majority.
It is true that many threats to the sanctity of human life that your author so passionately defends have come from the Labour left. These have included recent attempts to decriminalise all abortions as well as attempts to introduce a legal framework for assisted suicide as a step on the road to the widespread provision of euthanasia. But Conservative majorities have also historically been political environments in which a pro-abortion agenda has been driven forward and in which a legal framework to permit non-therapeutic research upon human embryos by the millions has been introduced.
Those pro-life political observers who have grown longer in the tooth will remember that it was a Conservative MP, Peter Thurnham (Bolton North East 1983-1997), who drove the campaign for research on the human embryo. It was the Conservative MPs Theresa Gorman (Billericay, 1987-2001) and Edwina Currie (South Derbyshire 1983-1997), under the Health Secretary of the day, Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe 1970 and still going strong!), and alongside Health Minister, Virginia Bottomley (South West Surrey 1984-2005), who worked to develop the policies that were then enacted in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 – permitting destructive research on the human embryo and permitting abortion up until birth for disabled babies. Those were dark days for the pro-life movement.
Theresa May has already pledged, some would say unwisely, that her Government, if returned to office on 8th June, will maintain Britain’s overseas aid spending at 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product, but there are members of her party who argue passionately that this commitment should be dropped, or that the funds should be used in different ways. Mrs May, as this column has previously observed, along with the aid agencies themselves, needs to develop and articulate a consistent narrative as to why this spending is affordable, sustainable and necessary. To date, successive governments and many aid agencies have failed to do this.
On immigration, there has been a tendency on the part of individuals in all political parties to scramble to the bottom of the barrel, to see who can dredge up the most toxic and xenophobic comments and policies. We even now see Ukip leading its election campaign with a policy to ban the burqa – and that from a party leader, Paul Nuttall, who considers himself a Catholic! Would he extend that ban to veiled nuns, readers can only wonder? Are the Salesians, by whom he was educated, proud of the policies of their alumnus, whose party’s views on immigration have infected the body of British politics with xenophobia, just like a virus?
As for the Liberal Democrats, let us not forget that it was David Steel (various Scottish seats 1965-1997) who personally introduced into the House of Commons the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which went on to be passed as the Abortion Act 1967, opening the door to the deaths of many millions of unborn babies.
This brief canter through political parties and unwelcome policies is not intended to encourage support for any particular party. Quite the opposite: its purpose is to reveal that it is not only the party policies, developed and promoted nationally, that readers have a duty to consider in advance of voting on 8th June. No, as much, if not more, attention needs to be paid to the personal views and character of the individual candidates who are presenting themselves and inviting our support in the polling booth.
In the run-up to the General Election, there is a particular responsibility on voters to engage with politics, to inform themselves of the views, policies and voting intentions of individual candidates. They must face the sometimes brutal conclusion that they cannot, in conscience, vote for the candidate of their preferred political party because he or she has ruled themselves out as an acceptable recipient of the vote of one who wants to see the sanctity of human life upheld, both before birth and at the end of life. These will both be major issues in the new Parliament.
Those elected to the new House of Commons who wish to hold the line on ethical issues, and those organisations, such as Right To Life, outside the House who work to support them in those campaigns, can only work with the material they are given by the electorate. Now is the time to ask to meet local candidates, to challenge them on their views on abortion, assisted suicide, overseas aid and other key issues. Now is the time to cross off the list of potential recipients of a conscientious vote those who cannot give the necessary reassurances; and so, yes, now is the time that many voters may have to hold their noses and vote for an individual who wears the rosette of a political party that they have not previously supported.
If this approach is not taken, and if those who profess to uphold ethical principles return to Westminster through this election Members of Parliament who then vote, for example, for the decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of assisted suicide, then those voters share responsibility for that action.
In our parliamentary democracy, voting, having first informed ourselves on the policies of individual candidates, is a huge moral responsibility which we should not shirk. As we put that cross on the ballot paper, it should remind us of another cross to which Jesus was nailed and which we marked only a few weeks ago: and in making our own cross, we should remember, respect and reflect the principles for which he gave his life.
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KCSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West). t: @CllrWhitehouse