Notes for Voters

May 7. It’s coming and don’t we know it here in the U.K.

Wall-to-wall TV coverage. Baby kissing. Politicians in shiny suits promising us the earth. Pundits commenting endlessly.

That’s right. The General Election. The Big One.

Allow me to quote Eddie Izzard on his reading habits. ‘Some people are widely read. I’m not. I’m thinly read.’ And in the same way, I do not hold strong political views (widely read), but rather weak ones (thinly read).

But views on how morality relates to politics? Well, that’s something else altogether. So, here is my appeal to voters who cheer loudly for their teams. You know who you are.

To Labour and generally Left-leaning sympathizers:

First, if you lean Left because you genuinely care for the less fortunate, then I resonate with your motives. Nothing wrong with caring for the poor and holding political views which you think will bring about greater support for those less fortunate. If we were pure enough to think only of others, perhaps the Left would win my heart. Sadly it doesn’t.

Here’s why.

My biggest objection to the Left has to do with the emphasis on re-distribution. I understand that budgets must be set. Got that. But the concept of re-distribution contains two ideas which I think are flawed. First is the idea that it is the role of government to correct the inequities of human society. In its extreme form, this leads to communism. That’s a bad idea.

I suppose we all have to have faith in something. I, for one, don’t trust the state. Second, the urge to re-distribute sets one group against another, based on nothing but pure envy and perceived injustice. It leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth. I’ve written about that here.

So, what’s the premise? Life’s not fair and it’s the job of the state to make it ‘fairer.’ For fairer, read ‘take from one group and give to another.’ But pointing at the rich and attributing immorality to them due to their wealth is just plain wrong. From a purely pragmatic point of view, it is also unwise to overtax the rich for the simple reason that the wealthy know better than anyone how to avoid tax. Sure, you can implement a 50% tax rate, but just watch. The actual take will go down.

In addition, let’s be clear about this one salient fact: The state has no money of its own. None. (Yes, it has assets but you can’t just sell off the assets) In fact, if anything it owes vast amounts of wealth it has borrowed on your behalf. It is hugely in debt. You and I are hugely in debt. And perhaps of more concern, our children are saddled with huge debts.

Politics is largely about sharing out the pie. But whose pie is it?

Let me introduce Colin. He’s a well-paid executive. He earns seven figures. Forget where he came from, that’s his wage. He has benefited from a good education and he has worked hard. Very hard. He is in the top 1% of the population which contributes 25% of the tax revenue. But it is not the state which supports people. It is a whole bunch of Colin’s and his like who disproportionately support the less fortunate.

Did you know that Colin pays for several nurses, teachers and a fair amount of school maintenance? Yes, he does. He earned his money and now he pays his taxes. The state doesn’t pay the teachers or nurses. You can only pay people if you have money and the state doesn’t have money. It has Colin’s money. And yours and mine. Colin supports others through his taxes, let’s be clear about that. Do the schools and teachers send him a thank you letter for his giving? No, they don’t. How could they? The donor and the recipient have no connection. And that’s bad.

One final comment. Political rhetoric which uses language like ‘the government is attacking the teaching profession’ is truly unsavoury. Let’s be honest about this. If it gains power, Labour must also tackle the deficit. When they make difficult spending decisions, will they be ‘attacking nurses and teachers?’ No. ‘Making difficult spending decisions’ does not mean ‘an attack’ and calling it that is unhelpful and unpleasant. Sadly, it’s one of the costs of living in a democracy.

To Right-Wing sympathizers:

Stop bashing immigrants. It’s unseemly, ungodly and like the Left’s rich-vs-poor, it sets one group against another. Historically, anti-semitism used to arise in countries which were unsure about their identities, were economically depressed and were looking for a scapegoat. I’m sorry but it doesn’t matter if the U.K. has lost its core identity and we’re taking time to emerge from recession, it’s wrong to attack a group within your midst. The Hebrews had dozens of laws designed to promote kindness towards the foreigner. Christians are called to reach out to the marginalized and you don’t get much more marginalized than being a poor immigrant. So, stop it with the anti-immigrant rhetoric.

You sound selfish.

In fact, that’s often your main problem. You worship the wrong God. Money can’t save you. The market can’t save you. And no, there is no level playing field. The strong manipulate the rules for their own advantage and we seem powerless to stop it. It’s a tragedy that global finance nowadays is more powerful than governments, but there it is. I don’t have a solution.

Most of us are but little people with limited resources. Go stand with a placard somewhere if you think that will help. At minimum, pay your taxes and stop using expensive accountants to help you avoid your obligations. If you manage to avoid tax, then use what you save to give to others. Please.

What we need are compassionate philanthropists, who support those in need. I know you pay your taxes. Thank you. But we need you to do more. If you’re wealthy, how much more could you give to charity? If you’re not, then remember that the desire to keep as much for yourself is thoroughly condemned in the Bible. God calls for compassion to reflect his nature. And that means your pocket. Yes, it does. And your time.

You may have worked it out by now. I lean slightly to the right, if truth be told. But you know, there’s a sentence in there which reflects my views most clearly. ‘The market can’t save you.’ And nor can politics. And perhaps most of all, the state. That’s probably why I don’t respond well to those on the Left. I don’t like envy (I don’t like it in myself) and I don’t think that the state is there to solve our problems.

I find it interesting that God doesn’t run a democracy. He runs a kingdom. He’s not particularly interested in whether we would vote for him. It’s his way or the highway and yet, what an invitation! To join him in reaching the world with his love.

It is people who have compassion.

Not governments. They just spend our money.

But I don’t put my faith in governments. I certainly don’t expect them to solve my problems.

I have a God in whom I trust.

He doesn’t need my vote, though I would give it to him a million times over.

© Richard Collins 2015


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