The morning after the night before, and all the party spin-doctors are claiming victory for their side in the leaders’ debate. Last night’s meet of party heads, the first televised event of its kind in the UK , saw 9.9 million viewers tune in. It was one of the most trending topics on Twitter, and the specially designed Facebook app couldn’t handle the pressure.
The debate was about more than just the reputation of Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, but it was also about less, with policy pledges and colour of ties equally enthralling commentators.
These televised debates, as well as addressing political apathy, will give us an opportunity to reckon with the personalities and hopefully character of each candidate side by side. But what role should personality and character have in the contemporary gladiatorial arena of party politics?
In Deuteronomy (1.13) we read of Moses struggling to govern the Israelites on his own so he proposes to “Choose some wise, understanding and respected [reputable] men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.”
While we are not Israel , God is still the Lord of all creation. As the creator and sustainer of all that is good it is right for us to affirm and engage where God is already involved. And that applies to our politicians too. We should affirm the goodness in the political leaders in our country, but also challenge them to stand up for their reputation and for what they believe is right. This also offers us a great opportunity to ask friends and family what they think Jesus was like as a political leader, because he is a King, though of a different sort of kingdom. He built up quite a reputation during and after his life. He was frequently questioned, and still is.
Today, the media regularly brings a persons reputation to the fore. The Queen of Sheba was one of the first politico-celebrity journalists. The passage in 1 King 10 illustrates her encounter with Solomon well: “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the LORD [his reputation], she came to test him with hard questions.”
Solomon’s reputation preceded him, perhaps because others had talked about this wise King just as our journalists report on the character and personality of the party leaders. Sheba did not believe what was reported about Solomon and had to come and test him for herself. She did this with hard questions, much like journalists question politicians today.
We should emulate Sheba ; asking questions is a good practice and is vitally important as we approach an election. As we talk about the first leaders debate with our friends this weekend, discuss why a good reputation is important. A good reputation is worth striving for because it aggregates the virtues we embody, sending a message about who we are as persons.
So as we ask our politicians questions and assess their reputation, ask ourselves and our friends: Why is it important? Ask them. Ask real questions and listen to what they say.
Lauri Moyle is Fellow of the Institute for Faith and Culture