Poverty, homelessness and struggling public services are among the critical issues which have been airbrushed off the political agenda for too long and now need addressing, argues the Archbishop of Wales.
Archbishop John Davies says Wales is facing a daunting list of needs and challenges which have been pushed aside by Brexit. He calls for politicians seeking election to re-balance the agenda and give proper time, attention and debate to improving the lives of people suffering increasing despair.
The Archbishop also criticises the tone of both political discourse and the election campaign so far, and calls for debate which “informs and enthuses” rather than “bewilders and wearies” voters.
In a statement ahead of the General Election on December 12th, Archbishop John encourages people to vote, to take part in debates and also to help their friends and neighbours who may be reluctant to go out on dark winter days, to get to hustings and polling stations.
He asks them to vote for a government that seeks unity and a “just, welcoming and tolerant society” rather than feeds narrow self-interest. He also calls for a willingness to pay more tax for what needs to be improved.
The Archbishop’s statement
Wales faces a list of needs and challenges which is particularly daunting at this time. Alongside global problems such as climate change, the continuing refugee crisis, and the international phenomena of modern slavery, trafficking and criminal exploitation, our long-cherished and once world-leading public services have suffered relentless cutbacks in spending and provision. Increasing levels of loneliness and mental illness impact upon children and young people, and are exacerbated by loneliness and isolation. The persistence of poverty and homelessness is shocking. We see prison conditions which are uncivilised and which brutalise rather than reform, and a justice system which, due to cuts to local services and reductions in legal aid, in some cases actually denies access to justice.
And, of course, Brexit, which has dominated so much of the country’s public discourse and political agenda for so long, does need to be sorted before we all despair. But it has all but airbrushed from the scene and taken off the agenda other critical issues which we continue to face, and with which many individuals and groups within society and the wider world, continue to struggle. These issues are much too serious for that to be so.
So, although the 2019 election comes at a time when many feel weary of politics and both weary and cynical about politicians, it affords us an opportunity both to re-balance the agenda and to give proper time and attention to so many important issues which impact negatively on millions of lives.
In the campaign that has already begun – badly skewed, poorly focused and too noisily some would say – we deserve to, and need to, hear about these issues again. We must demand that they are debated honestly and carefully for the sake of our integrity as a country and as a national family. And we must be allowed to hear about them through honest, reasoned and respectful debate, and not by means of a strident, emotive and, frankly, shameful, highly personal style of debate, a style that has both debased and disfigured the scene for too long.
To improve our public services, which have suffered relentless cuts set, uncomfortably, alongside promises of lower taxes, there must be a commitment and a willingness to pay for what needs to be improved, together with a tax system that ensures that tax avoidance by companies and individuals is eliminated.
Efforts are already being made to encourage the arrangement of local hustings where proper and effective debate can take place, and where candidates for election can be cross-examined about what they really believe, and where the realism of their promises can be tested. Here in Wales, Cytûn, Churches Together in Wales, has issued really helpful guidance about how such hustings can be arranged, and that guidance is readily available on its website.
The right to vote is a freedom we take for granted, a freedom hard won, and a freedom that is not universally enjoyed throughout the nations of the world. So, I urge you to exercise your right. It has already been said that an election in the winter is hardly a good idea, because many people, not least the frail, elderly and nervous, may feel discouraged from venturing out to attend hustings meetings or to actually cast their vote. We must be ready to help them.
In and around our society, including in our churches, we are aware of countless examples of voluntary activity which demonstrate goodwill, kindness and human compassion, and which help many to achieve a better and more dignified way of life than would otherwise be the case. Such examples are evidence of a desire for, and a commitment to, a just, welcoming and tolerant society based on shared values and mutual responsibility, rather than one which feeds narrow self-interest. This is a vision that those of us who elect the people who will govern us must demand of the candidates that they share and sign up to.
God calls us all to live and work for the common good, and Jesus is uncompromising in directing our attention to needs of the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden. The Church has both a right and a duty to maintain that crucial message in the cause of creating a just society, where all have fair play and where all find hope. May we all work for, pray for and call for a campaign, conducted with, and characterised by, honesty, integrity, respectful disagreement, and reasoned debate, so that, come the election, we will feel informed rather than bewildered, enthused rather than weary.
May that election deliver to us a government that seeks unity and which is eager and willing to serve the needs of all.