Fewer voters may reflect state of politics

Politics should help people to contribute as much as possible, writes Richard Dawson.

The elections are over for another three years and we can settle back into our routines without the background hum of politicians and the media barking at us.

Thank God!

G. K. Chesterton once wrote: ''If you attempt an actual argument with a modern paper of opposite politics, you will have no answer except slanging or silence.''

How true that has been of the recent election.

The slanging has been almost without precedent in my memory of elections, and the silence?

Well, one can hardly expect much of that at such times.

Politics is a rough art.

Just ask yourself what most people think about politicians and you will find that few respect the profession or those who engage in it.

Despite this, our form of democracy hangs on these men and women who expose themselves to the vagaries of public opinion, day after day, and to the outright animosity of their parliamentary fellows.

Add to this a very brutal three-year review of their performance and you have a profession that is hard on individuals, hard on families and, more often than not, hard on friendships.

Thrown together in an extremely adversarial environment where one is committed to disagreeing with the other half of the chamber and equally committed to agreeing with their own party line, and we have a perfect set-up for dysfunctional relationships and behaviour and, often, this is what we get.

Of course, such behaviour serves only to reinforce our negative impressions of politicians and reinforce our original very low assessment of them.

But their behaviour is almost demanded by parliamentary tradition.

Again, Chesterton captured this well when he said, ''When a politician is in opposition he is an expert on the means to some end; and when he is in office he is an expert on the obstacles to it.''

Some rise above the exigencies of this environment and do well.

They cope with the ridiculous demands, inconsistent work hours, enemies within and without and the general lack of respect.

They perform reasonably well, but they do so against the background of significant personal sacrifice and intense public scrutiny which is perhaps greater than any profession.

Jesus says little about politicians but He does in one place indicate we should respect the political process and work to honour it.

Asked whether he supported paying Caesar's taxes or not, He replied by asking whose inscription was on the coin of the realm.

When the response was ''Caesar's'', Jesus then uttered those memorable words: ''Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's''.

In other words, ''Don't imagine that by honouring the political process you are dishonouring God''.

We can take this a step further by adding: ''Don't expect politicians to deliver what only God can.''

So Jesus made significant room for politics and politicians.

He did not deny them a place and a role and He did not usurp their important role in the stability and just operation of society.

The Church was not meant to replace good political process but to contribute to it in a democratically fair manner.

Some have erred at this point imagining that if God/the Church were in charge of politicians, we would finally have some real efficiency and justice operating at the heart of society and things would finally be done properly and in order.

This is, however, to vastly overrate the present state of the Church and, indeed, her servants.

I, for one, am content to serve where I am and to support those in politics through prayer and the occasional good word.

I do wonder, however, whether a certain vanity afflicts our modern political milieu.

It seemed to me that if one analysed the various propaganda produced to entice us to vote one way or another, virtually every party promised one thing - a better, more efficient, more effective government.

Now this may sound impressive at first glance and, of course, no-one is going to boast that they will run the country in a sloppy and inefficient manner, at least not in so many words.

But, returning one last time to Chesterton, he recognised something vital about one of the fundamental goals of good politics.

It should help people to contribute as much as possible at every level of society.

As he said, ''It is a good sign in a nation when things are done badly. It shows that all the people are doing them. And it is a bad sign in a nation when such things are done very well, for it shows that only a few experts and eccentrics are doing them, and that the nation is merely looking on.''

Healthy politics works towards widespread ownership and contribution. Unhealthy politics leads to people opting out. Without wanting to criticise any party, I cannot help but reflect on the low voter turnout this year. It is a worrying sign and one that all parties should reflect on.

 -The Rev Richard Dawson is minister at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Leith Valley.

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