Post-Election 2019: the state of the nation

Dec 17, 2019 by

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Last week’s election result was a significant moment for our country. While the Conservatives won with a huge majority, large numbers of people either didn’t vote at all (some on principle), or ‘held their nose’ and voted Tory because the other options looked worse, not because of enthusiasm for and complete faith in Boris and his programme. The analysis of the election continues in the media (including Christian blogsand the political parties , and will continue in families around Christmas dinner tables. In some quarters there is disappointment, even fury at the result, but probably overall much more relief, even from those skeptical about Brexit and the ability to deliver on some of the more ‘unicorn’ promises, that at last after what seems like several years we have a government which can actually govern.

It has been said a number of times that the scale of the Conservative victory means that this will be seen as historic, a generational shift, in the same way as Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 sweep to power, or Tony Blair’s ‘new Labour’ project beginning in 1997. What kind of country do we have now? Here are, briefly, eight observations:


The UK will leave the EU in some shape or form. Boris Johnson promised, again and again, to ‘get Brexit done’, and his majority will ensure that the first stage will be completed by January 31st. Of course then there is the small matter of the trade deal negotiations, which some commentators are already writing off as impossible. What does the future hold? Prosperity as we continue good relationships with Europe without being in the federal project, and build new links with other countries? Or debt-burdened recession as we have to pay tariffs to trade with anyone? We don’t know!


The people of the UK are more unashamedly patriotic than before. The English and Welsh working class rejected the modern left’s fashionable embarrassment with Queen and country, and have seen continued support for Brexit as a way of expressing pride in national, rather than class identity. The Scots essentially voted for independence and pressure to formalise this will grow in coming years. The Northern Irish voted in greater numbers than before for progressive parties which advocate a united Ireland, which perhaps shows a growing Irish rather than British identity even among those with protestant heritage.


The people of England rejected the rhetoric of the left. Tired old trade union tropes about the right to a four day working week, fostering grievance about ‘austerity’ and exploitation by cruel Tory bosses; new liberal ‘woke’ race and gender identity politics; Marxist demonisation of Jews and America with visions of a state-controlled utopia — these narratives did not work in getting the majority of people to support Labour or the Liberal Democrats. The almost messianic promises of unlimited funding to ensure that “no-one should have to struggle” were viewed with skepticism by people who nevertheless want effective government assistance for the disadvantaged as well as a strong charity sector.


But, paradoxically, the political landscape of the UK has moved to the left. While there are some superficial similarities between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, the new UK Government is more like that of Tony Blair in effecting a move to the centre ground. Much more Keynsian in economic policy than under Mr Cameron and Mrs May, socially liberal, in the forefront of the global LGBT agenda under a Prime Minister who is in a cohabiting arrangement, determined to invest in the historically disadvantaged areas of the country, intentionally appointing ethnic minority MP’s to the Cabinet, happy to at least pay lip service to environmental issues –  this is not “right wing” in any sense of the word. At the time of writing, the opposition seems determined to remain much further to the left.


The people of England are more united than before. Again, this seems to contradict a commonly heard message that we are all at each others throats, with hate crimes on the increase etc. But in fact, while social divisions continue, there is no longer a clear political divide between north and south, rich and poor, black and white. There is unanimous agreement in the need for government to preserve the NHS in its current form, and to provide other well functioning public services. While most people (including many immigrants) appear to favour some kind of restriction on immigration rather than ‘free movement’ within the EU, those with dangerous views on race and religious supremacy/segregation remain in a small minority.


And yet, the very nature of the United Kingdom is threatened, as nationalist sentiment in Northern Ireland and Scotland indicates a desire to pull away from political union with England. While there is an increasing feeling in England that if that’s what a large majority in Scotland want to do, let them – to their own massive disadvantage – there is no way of knowing what serious negative effects the breakup of the Union may have on our economy and psychology.


Conservative government and Brexit will not in itself bring Christian revival. Secularism, paganism and increasing Islamic influence do not come from Europe but are deeply embedded in Britain and embraced by the new government. If the Conservative Party (perhaps now a misnomer) is now economically centrist and socially liberal, successfully reflecting the sentiment of the nation, it will remain very difficult for the church in the public square to proclaim a counter cultural message especially the holiness and sovereignty of God, the uniqueness of Christ, the sanctity of life and the importance of families based on monogamous heterosexual marriage.


Evidence of the electorate moving away from inherited ways of thinking provides hope for Christian mission. Boris Johnson’s victory speech recognised how for many former Labour voters in the north, the hand would have wavered before putting a cross in the Conservative box, as imagined ancestors would be whispering “vote Labour – that’s what our tribe does”. But thousands ignored this voice and voted Tory for the first time. Does this means, perhaps, that a new generation who have grown up with other inherited messages, that God doesn’t exist, that church is what you go to for a funeral, that Christianity is boring/irrelevant/untrue/bigoted – they might be prepared to apply bold, independent thinking to metaphysical as well as political issues?


Might a new realism that politics and government spending can’t solve all our problems, especially breakdown of community, relationships and mental health – lead to a new openness to the gospel? Might a renewed sense of national identity lead to a search for historical and spiritual values underpinning it? Might a new, indigenous form of church grow in the areas where educated southerners have struggled to plant and nurture? Times ahead might be difficult. But it’s Christmas time, when we remember God doing an unusual thing. Who knows?

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