Monday, 10 May 2010

Chaos, Confusion and Coalitions

All night long I searched and I scoured, I flicked between television and online coverage, I rummaged through my twitter feeds, in the forlorn hope of finding something that would explain it all. But as the results came rolling in and the blue column overtook the reds and the yellows never really took off, I could not find a theme to explain what was going on.

This election campaign has been unusual and failed to conform to the pattern of previous years. The leaders' debates shook up the electoral dynamic and gave Nick Clegg a platform he would not otherwise have had. His ratings rocketed and for a while it seemed as though everyone agreed with Nick. And the abuse of parliamentary expenses still hung as a dark cloud over the reputation of politicians, and trust in politics descended into deep disenchantment.

So as I settled down to watch the grandiose election night specials there were two themes vying for the limelight. Would Cameron be the 'change we can believe in', or would Nick Clegg bring coalition government to the British Parliament? It all felt simple enough, if Cameron won then the theme of the election was change, if Clegg's rise forced a hung parliament, then coalition, and the need to work together, took centre stage.

But that wasn't how things stacked up. The exit polls were vindicated as seats started to declare; Cameron had not received a ringing endorsement from the electorate and would be short of an overall majority. Yet it was the Liberal Democrats who once again surprised, as they will have less seats in the new parliament that they did in the last.

So I tracked through lists of target seats and projected swings and tried to work out what was happening. But there was no pattern, the Conservatives would secure a shock win, and then fail to pick up a vulnerable seat next door. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives traded seats and confusion reigned.

And then I realised: why should the entire country behave as one? I thought back to what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 12ff), when he reminded them that the body is made up of many parts. Many parts that are different, yet part of the same body. As this train of thought took over the patently obvious dawned on me. No two constituencies are the same and every candidate provokes a different response. Democracy is not just a way of aggregating the views of many different people to a single sound-bite. Perhaps in the process we can falsely get the im press ion that once the votes are counted, they all lead to the same singular outcome.

Sometimes I struggle with difference. I want things to conform, I want nice, simple, understandable concepts that fit into convenient boxes. Unfortunately for me, that does not reflect the world that I live in. It doesn't apply to politics and it doesn't apply to the church.

This indecisive election result half-heartedly points to change and reluctantly requires cooperation. Yet maybe in the midst of the chaos that lingers in the aftermath, we can think again about difference and confusion, and hear Ecclesiastes tell us (8v17), ‘No-one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.’

Confusion and complexity reflect our differences, and difference shouldn't be a threat, otherwise we would be afraid of everyone but ourselves. Difference should be a commodity that we cherish and value, that we protect rather than stifle.

What would a political system resemble if going off message was the norm and not a catastrophe? Come to think of it, though I ask the question of our politicians it applies equally to the church. Sometimes we can be so sure of what we believe that we hide from dissenting voices. But as we look to our political leaders to come together and put aside their partisan priorities for the good of the nation, let us look a little closer. And think about how we can embrace the complexity and accompanying confusion of living in a world that cannot be boiled down to the lowest common denominator. Where politics isn't all about uniform swings. And church unity is about our diversity as much as our similarity.

Article by:
Danny Webster, Parliamentary Officer

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