With the General Election on 6th May looming I thought it would be good to quiz the candidates from the three main political parties standing in the South West Wiltshire Constituency; Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour. The idea is to enable Christians and others who might be interested in the matters discussed here to make an informed choice at the ballot box. As with the wider electorate Christian believers will want to engage with a broad range of political and social issues. I expect that in this General Election campaign certain areas will be given extensive media coverage: How the parties propose to cut the national debt without harming essential public services like health and education, law and order, the overly intrusive CCTV State, cleaning up politics in the wake of the expenses scandal, the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, and so on. No doubt all these matters and more will also be discussed in the televised Prime Ministerial Debates.
In this questionnaire I have chosen mainly to focus on issues that are of special concern to Christians. We believe that marriage is the bedrock of a strong society and that human life should be respected and valued from womb to tomb. Recent legislation has had an adverse effect on Christian believers in this country. Christian adoption agencies have been forced to close for refusing to offer children to homosexual couples. Christian registrars have lost their jobs for asking to be exempted from presiding at Civil Partnerships. See here for a recent BBC documentary by Nicky Campbell which asks, Are Christians Being Persecuted? (Available until Sunday 11th April). With these concerns in mind, I put the following questions to Liberal Democrat candidate, Trevor Carbin:
1. Do you believe that Christian values have a beneficial role to play in contemporary society?
2. Do you believe that marriage is for a man and a woman alone and that it is the duty of the State to do all it can to strengthen and encourage the institution of marriage?
A. No, I don't object to same sex marriage. I do though regard marriage as a good thing to be encouraged where possible, but I don't want the state to get too deeply involved in personal matters. The idea of tax breaks for married couples sounds nice in theory but is likely to be very difficult to administer in practice and would add yet more complexity to what is already an over-complex system.
3. Do you accept that people who believe that heterosexual marriage is the only proper context for a sexual expression should be free to say so without falling foul of the law or losing their jobs?
A. Free speech is important so yes, provided there was no incitement to hatred involved.
4. Do you believe that churches should be free only to employ people whose beliefs and lifestyle are in accordance with Christian teaching?
A. Churches, like everyone else, must obey the law of the land. My understanding of the gospels is that discrimination is not a feature of Christianity.
5. Should school governors be given discretion over the contents of sex education lessons and should the concerns of parents be taken into account when deciding what children are taught?
A. Yes, but sex education is generally beneficial and schools should seek to allay any concerns felt by parents or governors.
6. Do you believe that the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?
A. About right.
7. Do you think that the law on euthanasia should be changed?
A. Yes, it should be made easier for those coming to the end of their lives to pass on with dignity and without suffering.
8. Given the closure of the Westbury Hospital and the mooted closure of the Westbury Swimming Pool, what more can be done to promote the health and wellbeing of the people of this town?
A. The closure of Westbury Pool would be an act of great foolishness and must be resisted. Closing facilities like local hospitals saves money for the authorities but harms the local population. We need a new way of thinking about facilities which takes into account the value to the community. To promote health and well-being we should encourage more use of leisure facilities and develop cycle tracks in and around the town.
9. How does your Party propose to protect the environment both at the local and international level?
A. At the international level it's necessary to work within the European Union to establish a programme to reduce emissions of CO2 and other pollutants, and to persuade other nations to do likewise. The comparative failure of the Copenhagen summit makes it more important to keep up the pressure. Within UK we have a policy to reduce energy consumption by insulating homes, schools and hospitals. We would vary aircraft taxation to reduce their emissions and would not build a third runway at Heathrow. Any new coal fired power stations would have to 'capture' their carbon dioxide. Small-scale renewable energy technology would be encouraged. Locally we would properly maintain the roads we have and not waste money developing large scale new road schemes.
10. Is British society broken, and if so how does your Party hope to fix it?
A. Of course it's not broken - this is still a great country and a fine place to live. There is a problem of the cycle of deprivation, where poverty is passed on through the generations. We would resolve this by a 'pupil premium' whereby poorer pupils attract extra funding for their schools which could be used for smaller class sizes or extra support. We would raise income tax thresholds to allow less well off families to keep more of their income, raising taxes on higher earners to compensate.
11. Why should the people of Westbury give you their votes at this General Election?
A. The British political system is institutionally corrupt and needs reform. The two-party system has allowed this to happen. We need enough Liberal Democrats in parliament to force revolutionary change and return power to the voters. We also need to take Britain out of the economic depression and into a recovery which doesn't just make the same mistakes happen again. We need to re-establish the values of honesty and integrity. We need to decentralise power and decision-making, and encourage community-based activity.
Thanks for stopping by to answer these questions, Trevor.