Monday, 27 April 2015

Guy Brandon’s Votewise 2015: Some Thoughts

The UK’s next General Election is due to take place on 7 May, and I’m finally reaching a point where I know for whom I’m going to vote. Thinking politically doesn’t come naturally to me, and so I’ve found Guy Brandon’s Votewise 2015 a helpful read.  Votewise 2015 intends

to give readers a strong and coherent biblical framework for assessing the principles, policies and promises that each party makes in its bid to govern the country. It does not tell readers how they should vote. Instead, it offers insights into how they might go about voting in the light of their Christian faith.

Guy Brandon, Votewise 2015: Making a Difference at the Ballot Box and Beyond (London: SPCK, 2014), p. 8

I have to say that having read Votewise 2015, I now feel more confident in knowing what’s at stake in the voting process, and what things to look for in party policies, even if I still find it far from easy and a bit of a chore to differentiate between each party. But, for Brandon, the ‘chore’ aspect shouldn’t prevent us from researching the various policies and stances. Engaging in politics isn’t merely a matter of putting a cross in a box every five years; if that’s the extent of our political engagement, then, he suggests, we’ve succumbed to a consumerist mind-set. The following quotation really captured my imagination:

Consumerism is our culture’s guiding ideology. We are used to having choice without effort, of changing the world around us in order to suit our desires and needs. Whether it’s what we consume in terms of TV, music and other media, the clothes we wear, the coffee we drink, our mobile phone, the company we keep – the message is that we get what we want, our way. We are used to instant gratification at the press of a button. We are not used to working slowly and patiently towards a goal.

Ticking a box on a ballot paper is the ultimate form of consumer-ready political engagement: simple, fast and low-effort (and even then many of us can’t be bothered to visit the polling station – roll on voting by text message, X Factor style). However, our consumerism-conditioned minds mean that we typically load on to this one brief act our entire expectations for political transformation over the course of the next parliament. This is, of course, entirely unrealistic. If we believe our participation in politics begins and ends on Election Day, no wonder voters feel so distant from government. (p. 9)

In my view, Brandon plays this politics-as-consumerism card a little too often. And by measuring modern policies on issues from immigration to education against the Old Testament Law and (occasionally) the Prophets, Brandon also comes across as a little nostalgic for the provinciality of ancient Israelite society. However, I understand his reasons for doing so, for he desires a society where everything from the economy to European Union membership serves to establish well-being or shalom. In the final chapter proper (the book closes with five short statements by Christian MPs and a two-page conclusion), Brandon suggests seven policies that he thinks will help tackle the roots of society’s ills:

1.    bring about a shift from individual rights to relational rights and responsibilities
2.    create time for people to meet their obligations outside the workplace
3.    reduce debt
4.    empower families and communities to deliver health, welfare and education
5.    increase business responsibility
6.    localize welfare and healthcare decisions
7.    break up the banks
(adapted from pp. 91–93)

These are simply the headings; Brandon himself supplies brief commentary on each of his policies. I’m not sure how many would work in practice, but the ultimate value of Votewise 2015 lies in its careful and clear account of why political engagement is necessary, and of the questions such engagement needs to ask of those offering themselves as candidates for election. In short, I recommend Votewise 2015, and, even though the General Election is only a week or so away, it’s still worth getting hold of a copy to read now.


  1. Very interesting. Our local MP is a Christian and is in a very safe seat. Given that it's a safe seat I wonder if my vote even matters, regardless of whether I vote for or against. I have lived in various places over the years but have never yet voted for the actual MP, which is interesting. I guess that's the nature of democracy.
    I do believe that Christians should be actively involved in the political process beyond just voting. I have written to my MP on several occasions, as has my husband, over various issues, and have had mixed results. Even when my MP has a different stance on an issue, I still believe it is worth actively engaging with politics. I can make him aware of the facts on a particular issue, for example. I was very pleased with his response to Open Doors' report on persecution of Christians in the Middle East, even if we have different views on windfarms!

    1. I think during the run-up to this General Election, I've realised just how important are the voting process and the need for continual political engagement. I don't think I'll be voting for my local MP - he seems conspicuous by his absence, if you ask me - but I might start writing letters to whoever gets in this time round on the issues I think are most important or urgent.