In the recent local elections here in the UK, residents of London boroughs had no less than three different ballot papers to fill in. First: to elect a mayor for the whole of greater London (this being quite a different position than that of the "Lord Mayor of London" who is the mayor of one London borough, the City of London - a much more ancient position). Second: to elect a constituency member of the Greater London Assembly. Third: to elect London-wide members of the Greater London Assembly, on the basis of proportional representation.
Amongst the candidates in all three of these elections were candidates of the Christian Peoples Alliance/Christian Party. These are candidates who, from a Catholic point of view, can be described as being "on the side of the angels" - pro-family, pro-life and supportive of Catholic social teaching in other regards too. How did they get on?
According to the 2008 diocesan directory, the Mass attendance at the Catholic parishes within the Havering and Redbridge GLA constituency is 17 403. Let's take this as some sort of rough measure of the level of Catholic activity in the constituency. The turnout in the constituency was 44.78%, so, assuming that these active Catholics voted in the same proportion as their non-Catholic neighbours, that gives 7 793 Catholics voting. I really do not know what scaling factor should be applied to take into account Christians of other denominations - shall we say a factor of 5, trying to take account of evangelical churches as well as the Church of England, Baptists, Salvation Army etc? That gives a rather rough guess at 38 965 Christians voting in the constituency.
In the Havering and Redbridge votes for the mayoral contest, 2 957 people (1.78% of total votes) voted for Alan Craig, the Christian Peoples Alliance/Christian Party candidate; in the constituency election for the Assembly, 5 533 (3.29% of total votes) voted for the Christian Peoples Alliance/Christian Party candidate. So, very (very, very) roughly, 7.6% of Christians voted for the Christian Peoples Alliance/Christian Party candidate for Mayor of London and 14.2% of them voted for their constituency candidate for the Assembly.
So, is it fair to say that the Christian Peoples Alliance/Christian Party in London did not tap in to what might be thought of as their voting base? A number of thoughts occur:
1. It is for lay people to use their expertise and experience to decide whether or not it is appropriate to stand for electoral office on a Christian platform. In the same way, it is for lay people to decide how they should use their vote. It would be quite wrong for church leaders to take an approach of saying that their members should vote for one candidate or party rather than another, even where that party has a Christian platform. There is an appropriate secularity of the political process that church leaders need to respect.
2. This is not the same as saying that church leaders should say nothing about politics! They could, for example, be expected to speak out if a particular policy being proposed was clearly contrary to their church's teaching (something that might be easier for the Catholic Church than for other denominations). They could also promote Christian social teaching.
3. But there is a way in which points 1 and 2 merge together. In this election, how far have Christians voted according to conscience - and by that I mean by using their Christian faith to make a judgement of the appropriate way to vote? Or, how far have they voted on the basis of Conservative vs Labour (or perhaps with Liberal Democrats in there as well), in a kind of allegience to the major party system, and then simply trying to choose what they judge to be best of the top three, believing that any other vote is a wasted vote? I do not want to say that the only judgement of a Christian conscience would be to vote for the Christian Peoples Alliance/Christian Party - depending on your individual constituency candidates, for example, a Conservative or Labour vote might well be appropriate - but I do feel that there would have been a noticeably higher vote for the Christian Peoples Alliance/Christian Party if the idea of a vote based on conscience were more widespread amongst Christians. And this is something to which Church leaders can legitimately make a contribution.
On a more optimistic note: so far as I can make out from the voting figures, the Christian Peoples Alliance have made progress in the 2008 London elections when compared to their showing in 2004. Their share of the vote for the constituency election votes in Havering and Redbridge, for example, progressed from 2.14% in 2004 to 3.29% in 2008, and this with an increased overall turnout in 2008.
Go here for the Christian Peoples Alliance/Christian Party comment on the election results and here for my post on William Hague's recent lecture on "Practical Politics, Principled Faith", which is relevant.