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Who should Catholics vote for?

Author: John McKenna

Photo: Keith Ivey

Who should Catholics vote for?

The Catholic Bishops have posed a range of questions in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. John McKenna considers the likely answers that each party would give to these questions.

Catholic Bishops in England & Wales* have written a letter to worshippers with guidance on the issues to raise with would-be MPs.

The letter is very clear in not mentioning or advocating a single party.

However, based on what is known of parties’ approaches to the issues raised in the letter, below is a guide to the issues, and the parties that best match the criteria set out by the Bishops in their letter.

Life issues

The Bishops support “policies that protect the fundamental right to human life” and call on worshippers to ask parliamentary candidates where they stand on assisted suicide, euthanasia, abortion and other life issues.

With an assisted dying bill currently making its way through the House of Lords and likely to hit the House of Commons after the general election, it is a good idea in particular to find out where candidates stand on this issue.

Manifestos have yet to be published, but previous statements on this issue and others such as abortion suggest there is likely only to be one party with large numbers of candidates that will vote against the assisted dying bill: the Conservatives. Even Ukip, which some might consider a more right wing version of the Conservative Party, is pro-assisted dying, because it claims it is a party that stands for the individual, choice and independence.

Best match: Conservatives

Health

In addition to life issues, the Bishops’ letter calls for “a robust National Health Service on which we can all rely”.

All parties claim to support the NHS, but it terms of committed funding in the next Parliament, it is the Conservative Party that fares worst, and Labour and Ukip that come out on top.

Best match: Labour, Ukip

Families & poverty

The Bishops’ letter says that “families are more diverse and fragile than they were” and that many “are financially vulnerable and struggle to make ends meet”, turning to voluntary support such as food banks.

“Government policies should be assessed on the ways in which they impact those most in need”, says the report, “and how they support and strengthen the family and its capacity to flourish”.

As the incumbent parties during the rapid rise of the food banks (with nearly 1 million having used them), both Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats fare badly here.

Both Labour and the Green Party would increase the minimum wage and scrap the controversial “bedroom tax” in a bid to alleviate poverty.

Best match: Green Party, Labour

Education

Future government policy should “ensure that the poorest have access to high quality education” and that “Catholic parents have true choice for educating their children in Catholic schools”.

Each party has different views on how excellence in education is achieved: the Green Party, for example, would give teachers greater freedom and scrap Year One phonics test and SATS, while the Conservatives would increase school inspections and continue the roll-out of academies.

As far as Catholic education goes, all parties are broadly supportive of the expression of faith in schools in some form, although the Green Party is the most hostile to actual faith schools: it will scrap compulsory acts of worship, requiring schools to provide alternative space for children who do not wish to take part; and religious organisations will be banned from running publicly-funded schools.

Best match: One to pray over and discern what you want from education for yourself and/or your children. In terms of a party supporting Catholic schooling, choose from any of the following: Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats or Ukip.

Communities & Immigration

A fairly strong pro-European tone comes through in the Bishops’ letter: “As human beings we share a common humanity and are members of a single human family. We rightly have ties to our own families and communities, but are always called by the Gospel to a wider solidarity with others… The principles of solidarity and subsidiarity assist us in how to think about the future of Europe.”

The letter goes on to explore how work plays a vital role in building communities, saying: “People are not merely economic units to be exploited. The dignity of work should always be respected.” It asks Catholics to ask candidates if they support the Living Wage (currently £7.85). Candidates from the Green Party, Labour and Liberal Democrats are most likely to say that they do. These are also the most pro-European parties.

Best match: Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats

Overseas aid & environment

In its final section entitled “Caring for the world”, the letter from the Bishops says: “God has given us a good world in which to live and an abundance of gifts of which we are the stewards. Such gifts are distributed unevenly across the world. There is a great gulf between the rich and the poor.”

The letter asks Catholics to ask parliamentary candidates their views on overseas aid and development, and on climate change.

The Coalition government has ringfenced overseas aid during this parliament, but has performed less favourably when it comes to the environment, cutting renewable energy subsidies and promoting fossil fuel development, including controversial shale gas schemes. Unsurprisingly, the Green Party goes further than any other party in its commitment to tackle climate change.

Best match: Overseas aid – Conservatives & Liberal Democrats; Environment – Green Party

Conclusions

The results show that there is clearly no such thing as a “Catholic” party, with each one of England’s five main parties being recommended above at least once.

Although the Bishops point out that no vote should ever be made on a single issue, one way to discern who to vote for is to consider which of the above issues you care about passionately, to the point when hearing of the pain of others in those areas break your heart: for some it may be the termination of an unborn child's life, for others it may be families in England in poverty, and yet others the destruction of the planet.

If your heart breaks over a certain issue, then it is likely that God has put that issue on your heart and he wants you pray about it and to do something about it. A first step in doing something could be casting your vote for the party most likely to make a change in this area.

If there are many areas that you care about equally (or indeed none), then just pray to the Holy Spirit to help you discern which party is best to back.

Finally, you may also wish to take the Bishops’ advice and pray the following prayer before casting your vote:

“Lord, grant us wisdom that we may walk with integrity, guarding the path of justice and knowing the protection of your loving care for all.”

 

*As this is the website for Catholic Charismatic Renewal in England, this article is restricted to examining the policies of parties standing for election in England and does not include the policies of Plaid Cymru.

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