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
Voting can be a tricky business – there is no one party that fully reflects Christian values. There is also the need to consider the interplay of the character of individual candidates and the values of the party they choose to stand for. I grew up during the Thatcher years and witnessed the damage caused to parts of society by the promotion of individuals over communities, so when I was first able to vote, I chose to support Labour. I was under the impression that Labour was still a socialist party and had the common good at the heart of their policies. However, it became apparent that this core value was being eroded and that there was a move towards free-market policies more in line with that of the Conservative Party. In 2010 I decided to vote for the Liberal Democrats as again I felt this was a better fit with my own values, but I’ve been disappointed by the lack of integrity displayed during this term.
So how does one choose a suitable party and candidate? The bishops of England and Wales’ letter to assist voters in the 2015 election highlighted the need to consider multiple issues, and picked out several areas for consideration – including life issues, communities, family, education and stewardship. It offered various questions to pose to prospective candidates on each issue. Many of the questions and areas it covered were part of my decision-making process. I chose to contrast various parties with elements of Catholic social teaching (CST) and after doing so, the Green party was the best fit.
Why the Greens? Whilst policies are a good indicator of the nature of a particular party, I feel that values are more stable, and a better way to judge the longer-term influence they might have. The Green Party has several values at its core which I feel line up well with CST and biblical values. Some of these are social justice, true community, non-violence, grass-roots democracy and a strong desire to care for people and the planet. An element I find particularly enticing is the fact that policy is driven by the membership, and not dictated by the leadership. This gives the opportunity to influence and change policy when it is not in line with our own values.
A particular example would be the Green Party’s position on faith schools. They want to allow pupils to practice their own faith in schools, but say schools should run religious instruction (catechesis) as opposed to religious education (learning about others’ faiths), and then only as an extra-curricular activity. As a member of staff within an RE department of a Catholic secondary school, I do not hold with this constricting current policy. They also want no state schools being run by a religious organisation, which would be hard to enforce. As a party member I have the ability to influence and hopefully orchestrate change.
Chris O’Donnell teaches in the diocese of Salford and is a new member of the Oldham Green Party