Friday, 8 May 2015

A politics of self interest?..Or a politics worth living? [UPDATED]

A few days before the General Election, a then Parliamentary candidate, now the duly re-elected member, delivered his election letter through my letter box (emphases in the original).
As your M.P., I have dedicated myself to standing up for [constituency name], fighting for our community and looking after the interests of local people....
Parliament also needs M.P.s who are not afraid to speak up for what is right for Britain and for England too, which is something I have always done.....
Let me give you this clear commitment now:
As your M.P., I shall only support a Government that gives the British people a referendum on the European Union and promises to put Britain first!
And from his "top 10 pledges" on the reverse of his letter (again, the emphases are in the original]:
1. Keep working hard for [constituency name] all year round - always putting[constituency name] first!
2. Continue to stand up for Britain as our voice in Parliament.
3. Let the British people vote in a referendum to get OUT of political union with the E.U. - free trade and co-operation is the only relationship we need with Europe.
4. Control immigration, protect our UK Borders and end welfare benefits to foreign nationals who have not contributed to our country.
Now in a political structure which allies membership of the House of Commons to representation of a specific geographical area, there is both a political and moral legitimacy in an MP working in favour of the interests of his constituents. However, the Honourable Member's electoral missive appears to me to do two things that go beyond this legitimate activity. I think it first of all articulates on his own part a politics of interest only in his own town and country, a politics of self-interest in his own community. And secondly, and rather more sadly, it promotes such a politics of self-interest among his constituents as something worthy of electoral support; it encourages them to see political engagement as an activity of self-interest.

There is, of course, another possibility in politics. That is to build one's politics, not on the interest of self or my own group, but on the interests of the other. This is what is meant when the Second Vatican Council taught (Gaudium et Spes n.74):
The political community exists, consequently, for the sake of the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy. Indeed, the common good embraces the sum of those conditions of the social life whereby men, families and associations more adequately and readily may attain their own perfection.
One of the most widespread attempts to live out a politics "for the other" is that of the Movement for Unity in Politics, a work of the Focolare movement. When she visited Britain in June 2004, Chiara Lubich spoke of this movement to a meeting of Parliamentarians at the Palace of Westminster.
What this movement proposes and gives witness to, is a lifestyle that allows politics to reach its goal in the best possible way, that is, the common good in the unity of the social body.
In fact, one would wish to invite all those involved in politics to commit themselves to this lifestyle by making a pact of fraternity for their country, one that puts the country’s good above all partial interests, whether that of individuals, groups, classes or parties.
Fraternity offers surprising possibilities. It helps to give cohesion and value to human demands which otherwise could develop into insoluble conflicts. It harmonizes the experiences of local authorities with the sense of a shared history. It strengthens our awareness of the importance of those international organizations and systems which attempt to overcome all barriers, taking important steps towards the unity of the human family.
And in a section of her address sub-headed "Beyond the Party Divide", Chiara said (my italics added for emphasis):
The politicians of unity become aware of the fact that politics is rooted in love. They understand that others, too, sometimes called political opponents, might have made their choices out of love. They realize that every political group, every political option can be the answer to a social need and therefore necessary to building up the common good. Therefore, they are as interested in all that concerns the other – including his or her cause - as they are in their own cause, and criticism becomes constructive. They seek to live out the apparent paradox of loving the other’s party as their own because the good of the nation needs everyone’s cooperation.
This, summarizing the main points, is the ideal of the "Movement for Unity in Politics", and this is – it seems to me – politics worth living, politics capable of recognising and serving the plan for one’s community, one’s town and nation, indeed that of all humanity, because fraternity is God’s plan for the whole human family.
This is the genuine, authoritative politics which every country needs. In fact, strength comes with power, but only love gives authority.
This is a politics that does not oppose the interests of an MPs constituency to national or international interests, but sees them in unity each with the other. Its implications for my re-elected Parliamentary representative and for the new Conservative government are:
Will immigration policy be rooted in the need of the refugee and asylum seeker, or the self interest of the British people?
Will the debate about Europe be one about how Britain can contribute to the needs of the other nations, or will it be about the self interest of the British people?
Will the debate about savings in the welfare budget be about the needs of the other who is less well off in our society or about the self interest of the ill-defined "hard working family"?
UPDATE: Auntie Joanna (here) has reminded me of David Cameron's farewell speech at the end of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to our country, in which he expressed something of the theme of this post:
...people do not have to share a religious faith or agree with religion on everything to see the benefit of asking the searching questions that you, your Holiness, have posed to us about our society and how we treat ourselves and each other.
You have really challenged the whole country to sit up and think, and that can only be a good thing.
Because I believe we can all share in your message of working for the common good and that we all have a social obligation to each other, to our families and our communities.
And, of course, our obligations to each other – and our care for each other – must extend beyond these shores too. 

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