Who will British Catholics vote for in May? And who should they vote for? Is there anyone who has not been alienated in some way or other? The offending issues vary across the political spectrum, but – whether your problem is with faith schools or gay marriage, with environmental protection or defence of the realm, with abandoned family values or the exclusion of the those in need - the main parties have lost voters’ confidence to an alarming degree. But on 7 May, most of us will still cast our ballot. So all this week, Catholic swing voters explain why they’re ditching old allegiances and say who – if anyone – now best represents their electoral concerns
“Undecided”. “Don’t know”. That’s what I’m telling the opinion pollsters when they phone. Perhaps they keep contacting me because I live in a very marginal constituency. I cannot make up my mind which party to choose and I doubt I’ll decide until I have to mark the ballot paper.
I always try to vote for a centre party, and I did so before I came to live in Britain. If I lived in Germany, I’d opt for Angela Merkel and the CDU. In Northern Europe I might vote social democrat. Here, I was reassured by Tony Blair’s pragmatism and I voted New Labour as long as I was offered the chance.
This time, the Liberal Democrats apart, I do not see a centre party on the ballot paper. In my constituency the Lib Dems don’t count. So it’s a straight choice between Labour and the Conservatives.
I dislike both options. I have voted Conservative in local elections because their people on the ground work hard. But the party’s ingrained Euroscepticism is a deal breaker for me. While the EU has drifted from the vision of the Catholic activists who founded it, that vision still counts for me; the single market; the deeper understandings between the nations of Europe; the prolonged peace between states that once tore at each other.
I could vote for a “one nation” Tory party led by Kenneth Clarke, socially concerned, realistic about the limits of the role of the state, but not radical in the sense of wishing to cut it right back. Such a party is not on the ballot paper. The one that is lacks egalitarian instincts, and feels like the instrument of a moneyed elite. It stands for a shrunken idea of Britishness.
Then there’s Labour. The person of Ed Miliband is a very big problem for me. His leadership, as I see it, was fratricidally and dishonourably come by. It is exercised by permission of the Unite union. It lacks democratic legitimacy. Miliband is of the faction of the last Labour Government which was most culpable for economic mismanagement while in office. And there is no evidence that he is prepared to speak truth to his own party, still less to the electorate.
The Catholic bishops’ election letter does not sway me one way or the other. Although it has a slightly Labourite tinge, its counsels do not lead in any decisive direction.
In sum I feel disenfranchised in this election campaign and I am angry about it. Britain’s political culture has created two major parties which are seriously adrift of the centre, and led by a caste of “professional politicans” (Oxford PPE, then Special Advisors in Whitehall before becoming MPs) who are the product of an incestuous world. The tariff for their admittance to that world is the sacrifice of originality. They are so weightless that they are buffeted this way and that by the winds that blow from the extremities.
I hope May’s election utterly disrupts that world and that there is a second election in short order with a more appetising choice of leaders.
Brendan McCarthy is the arts editor of The Tablet
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