Supporting the case for Fairer Votes

By Simon Barrow
December 20, 2010

For some years, Ekklesia has been arguing the case for political and voting reform in Britain as part of a values-based change in public life. Over the coming few months we will be making an even more substantial contribution, with co-director Jonathan Bartley being seconded* for part of the week as a spokesperson for the Yes! To Fairer Votes campaign.

We are delighted that Jon's media and broadcast skills can be used in this way. Not all of the Ekklesia team particularly enjoy TV or radio (though Symon Hill is a radio regular, and I can be dragged on kicking and screaming from time-to-time!), but you may already have seen Jon performing rather well on Sky, ITV, the BBC - and in this debate with Margaret Beckett here on Newsnight.

We do not see this 5 May referendum as a limited party-political issue (Greens, Labour supporters, Lib Dems, some Conservatives, SNP, Plaid and independents are all backing the AV-as-the-next-step initiative), Indeed we tend to be highly critical of all the dominant parties. Rather, it's a matter of extending popular participation, enfranchising people, making votes count, and calling elected politicians to account. We intend to make that moral case within the churches, too.

As we set out in our detailed research paper, The state of independents: alternative politics Ekklesia believes in the encouraging independent, citizen-based and associational politics as a counter-weight to the hegemony of top-down elites and as a challenge to parliamentary and voting systems badly in need of reform.

We also made comment on the nature of the theological bridge between a post-imperial Christian commitment and the franchise issue - recognising both the opportunities and limits involved.

The paper declared:

A healthy democratic system – one that is open to change, criticism, renewal and a wide base of participation and decision-making – is positive for all of us. Of course, it will not resolve our differences nor will it alone produce the change of hearts, minds and lives which Christians (and others) argue is what real transformation in the public and inter-personal realm requires. Something more is needed for that. But the demos does give us a framework in which to ‘do business’.

Christian hope and commitment points towards the creation of public places where political competition is displaced by neighbourly affection, based on the voluntary but deeply-rooted commitments of ‘communities of principle’ (ekklesia). It takes particular traditions to make this possible. But in the meantime, general fair representation and involvement - while falling well short of a value-based consensus - remains far better than the alternative: the domination of public life by those with power, wealth, privilege or a monopoly over the means of force and violence. In these terms, the political means to sustain the demos can be seen creatively as what theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls ‘mandates of preservation’, and ‘penultimate goods’, rather than ends in themselves.

This means two things. Firstly, Christians can and should make a positive contribution to broader democratic culture as a means of enabling us (whoever ‘we’ are) to deal with each other seriously, respectfully and peaceably. Secondly, however, Christians would be wrong to reduce the Christian message to the working of any temporal political order, because that message deals with challenges and possibilities which go far beyond what sociologists call the limits of a ‘society of strangers’ and the arena of competitive difference. Democracy, on the other hand, assumes these as a given starting point.

By contrast, Christianity at its best seeks a ‘society of friends’ from the ground-up and starts with the conviction that the resources available to us include a practical love which goes much further than (and indeed transforms) family, tribal, ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ loyalties.

You can read more from the paper here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/independent_politics

Yes! To Fair Votes resources can be found at: http://www.yestofairervotes.org/

(*Jonathan's time is being paid for by the Yes campaign, not us)


Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. His co-directorial colleague is Jonathan Bartley. Ekklesia's associate directors are Symon Hill, Jill Segger and Jordan Tchilingirian. We also have a wide range of other supporters, consultants and regular contributors. See details under staff and associates.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.