16 March 2015, The Tablet

Meet the swing voters: 'No one whets my appetite'

by Brendan McCarthy

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.

Ballot paper. DreamstimeI 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

Above: © Basphoto | Dreamstime.com

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User comments (6)

Comment by: Mike
Posted: 30/03/2015 12:53:22

I would like to correct two points in the original blog, the reason for the selection of Ed Milliband and the Comments on financial mismanagement.
Ed Milliband was elected instead of his brother because David was too closely associated with Blair and the New Labour policies of backing Bush in Iraq, continuing the Thatcher/Reagan neo-classical economics (recently criticised by Pope Francis) and making the reduction of inequality a marginal policy.
In 2008 before the banks caused a near collapse of the rich world’s economies the deficit was £52 billion. Inevitably it increased when the “too big to fail” banks were rescued with our money. This was a policy agreed by all parties. However this should at most involved a blip in the deficit for 2 or three years. The Govt. through their policies managed to keep the deficit at a high figure. They only appear to be succeeding by comparing their deficit figure with the highest during the 2008-10 period when they should be comparing it with the £52 billion. In the process of keeping the annual deficit so high they have pushed up the National Debt from around £500 billion to a hugh £1.4 Trillion. This surely does not show financial acumen.
I sympathise with all the bloggers who do not know where to put their votes. I have the same problem. But surely a catholic who has read Evangelii Gaudium cannot vote for the party that is making the poor pay for the sins of the rich or for a racist party like UKIP either.

Comment by: Hurby
Posted: 17/03/2015 16:23:30

Looking at the Bishops' questions and the reasoning behind the questions, the closest party which for me would address the issues of the day is the Green Party. OK, they most likely will not get any notable majority but I will be clear in my conscience that I have voted for fair policies which contain care for creation and for fellow humans.

Comment by: ChriseCurtis
Posted: 17/03/2015 12:23:02

Sums up exactly how I feel: there is no natural home for my vote and no-one to represent my values and hopes. there is not even a reasonable compromise as the closed world of politics means that the distant elites no longer feel any need to seek a genuine mandate from the populace before enacting radical and often nasty laws to serve their ideology. Recognising that situation was what was excellent in the CofE election statement and sadly missing from the Catholic one. We do not need new policies but genuinely new politics.

Comment by: Dave
Posted: 17/03/2015 12:17:21

I likewise feel rather unimpressed by the (major) parties on offer. Nevertheless, I feel that it is important to consider the individual beliefs of each candidate - and if already one's MP, then voting record - rather than focus solely on which party they belong to.

My local conservative MP's voting record is neither great, nor terrible. He has consistently voted in favour of measures restricting access to abortion, including the recently defeated bill proposing a more explicit ban on sex-selective abortion, however he has also voted in favour of the recently successful bill proposing that the creation of genetically engineered 'three-parent babies' be legalised. Unfortunately, he further voted in favour of 'same-sex marriage' - I find this very difficult to overlook.

Thus, although we live in a safe, Kentish Tory seat, I feel that the only way I can express my displeasure with his choices is by voting for UKIP, even in spite of their well... Occassional shortcomings.

Comment by: Dave
Posted: 17/03/2015 11:34:00

Before voting, I would certainly take a look at the tool on 'The Christian Institute' website which shows how individual MPs have voted on moral issues:


'engaGE15' offers a similar tool:


Comment by: Paul
Posted: 16/03/2015 18:43:57

I also hope that May's election disrupts the existing incestuous world of Tory-Labour-LibDem politics that has led to me feeling disenfranchised in recent years.

Having read the bishops' letter, I'll be voting UKIP in the hope that, at last, we'll have a few MPs to represent a significant minority of the electorate who have not had their legitimate concerns addressed in recent decades. If that happens it will be great news for democracy - we'll be able to look forward some vigorous debating in the Commons.

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