The Next Five Years: Beyond Despair

Before the election, Ekklesia set out ten value-based principles to inform a different kind of politics in this country, both for parliamentarians and for civil society. Those principles are even more pertinent now the election is won. Following this election, we will continue to write, think, report, research, advocate and develop ideas that will help those in politics, policy, the media, the churches and other civic groups embrace these practical values. Together we can move towards a society that is more just, peaceable, equal and environmentally and economically sustainable.

A commitment to favouring the poorest and most vulnerable – we need to challenge the austerity narrative at every turn. We must highlight where cuts hit hard, and provide alternative approaches that have a real impact.

Actively redressing social and economic injustices and inequalities – we need to promote and develop ideas that ensure everyone has an equal chance. We must continue to highlight where people are experiencing injustice and stand beside those who are fighting for their rights.

Welcoming the stranger and valuing displaced and marginalised people - we need to work to change the mindset that suggests migrants are the problem, highlighting the reasons why people leave their countries, the dangers they face, the positive gifts they bring us.

Seeing people, their dignity and rights as the solution not the problem – we need to demonstrate through our work how when we people use their power to change their circumstances they can create better solutions than the policy makers.

Moving from punitive ‘welfare’ to a society where all can genuinely fare well –we need to strongly resist further welfare cuts. We will not rest till the work capability assessment is abandoned and replaced by a user led approach. We will call for the end to sanctions of people on JSA, the abandonment of the bedroom tax and the repeal of the Welfare Reform Act. More importantly, we will encourage politicians of all persuasions to embrace basic/citizen’s income as a powerful new way of ensuring all can fare well, that helps us escape toxic welfare debates.

Promoting community and neighbourhood empowerment – we will highlight communities and neighbourhoods who are taking control of their situations and showing change is possible where they live.

Food, education, health, housing, work and sustainable income for all – we will call for a secure income for all so no-one goes hungry. We will call for an end to privatisation of education, health and social care and for the UK to not sign up to TTIP. We will call for a major programme of housing to ensure development of more social housing, rent capping, prevention of sell off of council estates, and ban on foreign investors in housing.

Care for planet and people as the basis for human development – we will push for sustainable solutions to national and global problems. We will continue to push the case for renewable energy, and for the international community to recognise its obligations to work to end climate change.

Investing in nonviolent alternatives to war and force as a basis for security – we will argue that Trident is no longer necessary and that it is time to ditch our nuclear weapons altogether. We will oppose foreign military interventions, the use of drones in the battlefield and press for diplomatic solutions to overseas conflicts.

Transparency, honesty and accountability in public and economic life– we will support the repeal of the Lobbying Act. We will push for reform of the voting system and the House of Lords. We will hold politicians accountable for what they say and do, and remind them when they fall short.

There is no doubt that the next five years will be tough, particularly for the poorest people in society. But our path is clear. We have urged people to vote for positive beliefs and convictions. Now it is time to act on them. Voting is just one moment in politics. But the development of a democracy needs to be about participation as much as representation. Now is the time to use all the other tools available to us so we can beyond fear and suspicion to a society based on hope and progress.

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia:

Ekklesia associate Vaughan Jones described the 2015 General Election as an event in democracy. Now that moment has passed and the results are in it is time we reflect on what they mean and what we need to do next.

Against all the polls and every pundit's prediction (including ours), the Conservatives have a majority government.For those who would value a more progressive approach to politics, today’s result is a blow. Many will be feeling bleak about the future. The last five years have been appalling for poor, sick, disabled, homeless and vulnerable people, who will now suffer the impact of further savage public spending cuts. We need to mourn this result. We need to allow ourselves the time to be angry and despair that it was not more positive. Then we need to pick ourselves up, roll up our sleeves and get back to work. Because this victory isn’t 1979, it isn’t 1983, or 1987 when Margaret Thatcher won decisively. Nor is it 2010 when the Conservatives established a coalition with the Liberal Democrats giving them a sizeable majority. The Conservatives may have a majority of around a dozen, but governing will not be easy, as the Major government found out.

The Conservatives have snatched victory from what looked like a disastrous defeat because they hyped up fears of what the SNP might do in partnership with Labour. They operated a very focused electoral strategy in marginal seats and against their former coalition partners. And they made a flawed economic narrative the territory on which others were required to argue. Ed Miliband was drawn into all those traps. Today it looks like the politics of fear have won in England, while in Scotland people were persuaded to vote for hope. However, the demographics of the UK means that everyone pays the price of the fear factor.

But when time has passed and the Conservatives have to live up to their election promises, we may see the same effect we saw in Scotland after the referendum. Voters frightened off voting yes regretted their decision afterwards and the result was a surge of support for the SNP. If the Conservatives quickly disappoint, their support might disappear just as soon.

The Liberal Democrat decapitation strategy was very successful for the Conservatives. But the party that was so loyal in government is unlikely to forgive being punished by their former partners. Leader and former deputy PM Nick Clegg’s resignation gives the Liberal Democrats an opportunity to rediscover their liberal roots. And if they decide to work with progressives in Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green party, we might begin to see the beginnings of the strong opposition the country so desperately needs for a healthy democracy. In the first few months of this election term, the Conservatives are likely to push through their legislation, but as this Parliament continues, chances to defeat the government will increase.

The victory came about because, crucially, and despite the evidence, the Conservatives seemed to tell a better story on the economy. They have continued to blame Labour for the 2008 recession, even though it had far more to do with the global crisis. They have suggested they can grow the economy, even as it continues to falter in terms of investment, innovation, the trade deficit and other indicators – and relies on unsustainable asset bubbles, low wages and a low oil price.

Though they can blame Labour now, the Conservatives will not be able to blame the previous government forever. At some point, people will wake up to the fact that they are not managing as well as they have said they are. With strong anti-austerity MPs from the SNP, Plaid, the Greens in the House of Commons, Labour could be persuaded to find an different voice on the economy.

All of which provides policy and advocacy specialists like ourselves with opportunities to challenge, to inform, and to provide alternative prospectuses that can help elected politicians move towards a more hopeful, positive agenda. We have a responsibility to ally with others who share this desire, to push these ideas forward, and to make it clear that further austerity will be toxic for politicians of all parties.


© Virginia Moffatt is chief operating officer of Ekklesia. Before working for Ekklesia, she spent 30 years working in services for people with learning disabilities, most recently for Oxfordshire County Council.