Sunday, 25 April 2010

Votes and testimonies

posted by kathy

Sometimes life gets in the way of things we plan to do. I've been busy with work and Rhiannon with her studies. There were things to say, but we didn't say them on this blog. .

There were plenty of conversations in between, especially after Meeting. Lately we've been discussing the general election. We're not unanimous and many of us are undecided. One of today's attenders summed up the question as whether to vote strategically or vote your conscience. I suspect that's a dilemma many voters face.

There's no one party particularly favoured by Quakers. I've known Quakers in all three mainstream English parties as well as a number of fringe parties. Most aren't members of political parties at all but they usually vote, take a strong interest in politics and may support causes where they think they can make a difference.

Quakers don't have a creed or a body of shared beliefs. We do have what we call "testimonies," which are perhaps best explained as areas of concern. We consider these important when making choices and decisions in our own life. They are also important in our relationship as a body to public life and are therefore bound to influence the way we vote and talk to people in positions of power.

There are different interpretations and descriptions of the testimonies but most Quakers in Britain agree on four core testimonies: truth, equality, simplicity and peace. We agreed today to ask the six candidates for Broxtowe to say where they stand on these testimonies and to post their responses as comments to this blog. Tony, a member of our Meeting, has agreed to draw the attention of all the candidates to this blog.

Because the testimonies are broad, it seems sensible to explain how they have currently been interpreted and prompted action among friends.

People are most likely to encounter the Quaker truth testimony in court. Quakers don't swear oaths - they hold that they are required to speak truth all the time and oath-taking implies more than one standard of truth. In the last twenty years, Quakers have been concerned with the question of integrity in public life, including the pressure on public servants to be dishonest in various ways. Last year, when British Quakers finally decided, after 22 years of consideration, to hold same-sex marriages in Meetings just as we hold opposite-sex weddings, the truth testimony was at least as important as the testimony to equality. Those present - about 1700 Quakers - were reminded of George Fox's words on marriage: "This is the Lord's work and we are but witnesses." We saw that our duty was to witness to what we already saw as marriages.

The Quaker testimony on equality is rooted in the belief that there is that of God in everyone. Sometimes this is described as "the Light within." Quakers are as fallible in acting on this testimony as on any other. However the idea that we should see value in all humans has led us to oppose discrimination and cruelty prompted by such differences as race, gender, sexuality and disability. It has also led us to care for justice between individuals, groups and nations. Quakers are involved with prisoners and asylum seekers and have recently been involved in the Circles of Trust scheme, working with dangerous offenders after their release from prison. You may find it helpful to know that many Quakers refuse to use titles and address all people directly by their names.

The Quaker testimony on simplicity seems particularly apt in a time when there are concerns about the depletion of natural resources and damage to the environment. Historically it has also been linked to the testimony to equality with past Quakers, including William Penn and John Woolman, urging Quakers to avoid the acquisition of wealth for its own sake or for the sake of ostentatious display, especially in the face of poverty. Many Quakers are very concerned for the environment and sometimes care for the environment is listed as a separate testimony.

The Quakers' peace testimony is probably the best known. Almost all Quakers are pacifists. This isn't just a matter of refusing to support or fight in wars. Quakers look for what they term the "seeds of war" in their own lives, in society, in political structures and public actions. Quakers are involved in opposing war through a range of activities and organisations. These include work against military recruitment in schools, opposing the recruitment of child soldiers in Britain and overseas; campaigning against nuclear weapons and the arms trade and also working in schemes which offer training in conflict resolution to children and adults.

It's not possible to offer a summary of all Quaker concerns but I hope this post helps readers to consider some of their own priorities. I also that all the candidates will reply and explain where they stand in relation to the broad points raised by the testimonies. This will help Beeston Quakers and other readers of this blog to decide how best to cast their votes.

I am posting responses as comments, as they arrive. Click on "comments" below to read them.


Beeston Quakers said...

from Anna Soubry. Should she respond further, I shall add her comments (and delete this standard reply should she request it).

Thank you for your email. I am not in the office but out campaigning
in Broxtowe. I am receiving about a hundred emails a day and am
therefore struggling to answer them all individually. I should add
that the vast majority of emails are from lobby groups, charities and
similar organisations looking for support. With a few notable
exceptions I am not signing up support nor answering any surveys. I
can assure you that if I am elected as the MP for Broxtowe
constituents emails will be answered quickly and efficently. No MP has
any excuse for not answering emails given it's their job and they
receive a handsome allowance to employ staff. I will not employ party
activists and councillors with tax payers money.
Thank you again for your email - if it is urgent you will shortly
receive an individual reply.

Anna Soubry is the Conservative candidate.

Beeston Quakers said...

from David Mitchell.

Hello All,

simplicity in life, equality in opportunity and care for those around us; bringing a measure of trust to the marginalised and commitment to reduce conflict worldwide; respect for the rights of the child as everything we adults do will affect a child sometime somewhere; live within our means and practice these daily

yours in friendship
David Mitchell

David Mitchell is the Green Party candidate

Nick Palmer said...

Dear all,

Thank you for the open-ended invitation to candidates to respond. I don't want to abuse it by going on at huge length, but some thoughts that may be helpful:

* I'm not in politics for myself - I think the whole point of politics is to change the world for the better: more caring, more balanced, more intelligently run.

* Many aspects of the world today seem to me as indefensible as the slave trade which now seems so alien to us. There are countries with an average life expectancy of 30, yet it's controversial whether we give 0.7% of GDP in aid? The health system finally provides a guarantee of cancer concsultations within two weeks, and a major party proposes to abolish it? Refugees are rejected if they cannot prove a personal, immediate threat, and are then left with no food or shelter whatever until they go back into danger? Animals are reared in intensive conditions which demonstrably cause severe suffering during their brief lives?

* That said, many things have become better - the minimum wage, the rise in overseas aid, the reduction in child poverty, the improvements in health care. In the current economic climate, it's clear that the temptation will be to fudge and cut back on these things rather than make further progress. The next Parliament seems likely to be hung: it will be important to have as many MPs as possible who can work across party boundaries but stay consistent with their ideals.

* My personal priorities can be read from the comments above: tolerance, poverty reduction, global solidarity - which today also means joint action on climate change. I'm unfashionably an internatiionalist: I think the European Union is a good thing, and the United Nations potentially a better thing: I'm vice-chair of the parliamentary group for world government. If you want an MP who will "always stand up for Britain, right or wrong", you shouldn't vote for me - I think British MPs should be careful to ensure that British interests are protected, but our first objective should always be to see that Britain does the right thing. There are examples in my own voting record (Iraq being the obvious one) where I have got this wrong, but I try to learn from my mistakes (I would oppose any involvement in a conflict in Iran).

* The Broxtowe position is pretty clear: the national polls suggest the Conservative candidate is poised to win with a majority of a few hundred, and that's balanced by a degree of personal support for me. It's extremely close, and much as I respect the other candidates they are not really competing here with the same intensity. (The result last time: Lab 42%, Con 37%, LibDem 16%.)

I should love to continue to represent you, and it is quite likely that the outcome will depend on how quite small groups of families decide. Thank you for considering me.

Nick Palmer (Lab)

David Watts said...

Thank you for the invitation to comment on your testimonies. As a Christian I value truth as strongly as you, and if elected will be a man of my word. have been called on to give evidence in court on a number of occasions and do not take the oath for the same reasons you set out.

Truth should be at the heart of what we expect from our politicians of all levels. I have served in Broxtowe as a local councillor for the past eleven years and hope that in that time people who have dealt with me have known me as a man of truth.

I am firmly committed to equality, be it based on race, sex, disability or any other reason discrimination is wrong. I want to empower minorities to be strong and contribute positively to our country. Equality for Christians is also of vital importance. Being able to hold positions based on faith and act on them is something which is becoming increasingly more difficult in the UK, and I want to reverse that trend.

I'd never come across the testimony of equality in the way that you expressed it before and I found it very challenging. All of us are stewards of Gods world and need to care for it. A simple lifestyle would certainly contribute strongly towards that and I confess I do not live as simply as I could.

Finally peace is a matter very close to my heart. I am committed to scrapping Trident, a position which is supported by all Liberal Democrats. A world with a smaller stockpile of nuclear weapons is preferable to a world with a large stockpile. A world with no nuclear weapons would be even better.

In this election the support that I have received has been overwhelming. Much has changed since 5 years ago. The Liberal Democrats now run the local council. We have half of the county councillors from Broxtowe. Five years ago we were the third party on the council with one county councillor.

It is abundantly clear that I will receive a vastly higher vote than ever before and in this election we have the best chance of electing a Liberal Democrat MP for Broxtowe that we have had for a generation. I am the only one of the three main candidates who lives in the constituency and that is important to many people.

I do hope that those of you who support the Liberal Democrats will vote with your heart for what you believe, not just against something else.

Best wishes

David Watts
Liberal Democrats

David Watts said...

Sorry, I've spotted two typo's as soon as I posted the comments. It should have said that "I have had to give evidence ..." and it is the testimony of simplicity that I have not come across in this way before. I do find it a really challenging idea.

Beeston Quakers said...

from Chris Cobb of UKIP.

Thanks for this - sorry to be so long in getting back to you.

This is the first time in over a week I've had more than five minutes to attend to my email messages.

UKIP believes that the UK has a strong tradition of democratic government and that our membership of the European Union is not in our national interest.

Successive governments, Labour and Tory alike, have surrendered so many powers to the European Union that Westminster now only generates 25% of our laws – 75% are dictated to us from the EU.

The UK currently struggles under 120,000 (yes 120,000) EU directives and regulations !

Our EU membership forces us to contribute £45 million per day to Brussels and accept unlimited immigration from all 26 other EU countries.

The failure of the current Government to consult the British people about the Lisbon Treaty has given the EU further scope to bind the British economy in regulation. They are already talking in Brussels about imposing EU taxation in addition to the taxation imposed by Westminster . We would have absolutely no control over this additional taxation.

UKIP is the only mainstream party that offers a clear way for Britain to regain control of it’s destiny .

A popular misconception about UKIP is that it is a one issue Party – and that issue is to get us out of the European Union.

This could not be further from the truth – UKIP has developed a range of common sense policies covering all the major areas of government unencumbered by the constraints of the European Union.

These policies include:

1.Reforming and simplifying the taxation system by raising personal allowances to ensure that anyone earning the minimum wage does not pay any income tax and introducing a low, simple flat rate of income tax.

2. Promoting ‘Britishness’ on an inclusive basis which is open to anyone of any ethnic or religious background who wishes to identify with Britain.

We reject the ‘blood and soil’ ethnic nationalism of extremist parties and believe that Britishness can be defined in terms of belief in democracy, fair play and freedom as well as traits such as politeness.

3.The end to mass and uncontrolled immigration.

4. The introduction of direct democracy whereby if a certain proportion of the electorate (probably 5%) sign a petition demanding a referendum on any major issue that concerns them then a referendum will be held.

5.Constitutional reform with:

Directly elected County police Boards and Chief Constables where desired

Directly elected Health Boards

Directly elected Mayors where there is local support for them

Reform of the House of Lords to include directly elected members

Resolution of the ‘West Lothian’ question

6. Repeal of the EU imposed Human Rights Act (this is the Act which results in not allowing prisoners access to hard core pornography being a breach of their human rights !). We have had a perfectly acceptable charter setting out our freedoms since 1215 in the form of the Magna Carta.

7.Replacing the EU’s VAT with a Local Sales tax collected in the same way but with a proportion going direct to local councils.

The problem that UKIP, as a party, has is getting our manifesto ideas across to the general public as the media seems fixated on just the three traditional parties. The following link may be of interest to anyone who is interested in more information about our manifesto .

Kathz said...

The Quaker journal The Friend has interviewed a number of Quakers about the concerns and priorities that are influencing their vote. You can find the article by clicking HERE