Today, as I contemplate the serious decision of who I should vote for, I have a key concern. Do I have deep enough reasons for voting? Or am I - are we all - being steamrollered into casting my vote for parties and politicians caught up in a system that promotes self-interest over the common good?
The bishops of the Church of England produced a pastoral letter addressed to their fellow-Christians and entitled "Who is my Neighbour?" This called for a fresh moral vision for our society - a vision that needs to reach into the voting booth too.
So I want to encourage myself and other Christians not just in our diocese but across the country to make a pledge about their voting intentions.
To do this I have three questions. I believe the questions are rooted in a biblical understanding of the world. Questions that speak of a society where the least and lost are supported, the poor looked after, the victims given a voice and the marginalised cared for.
So when I vote it will be on the basis of having sought answers to these questions:-
1. Will your candidate be putting the common good, and especially the interests of the poor and the marginal, at the heart of your policies?
2. Will your candidate work with churches, faith communities and all people of good will to shape a society where all can flourish and where the stronger will readily and gladly help the weaker?
3. Will you be striving to fashion a healthcare and welfare system that treats each needy individual with respect and honour as a priceless, significant person (made as we would say in the image of God)?
Why these questions? Because I know, from my clergy here in the Diocese of Liverpool, that real human beings are hurting because of the way our society is shaped at present. I know these people's names and I've met some of them. Decent people facing impossible choices between paying for food and paying the rent. Desperate people who feel they have had to turn to high-interest pay day loans to fund the essentials of life. Knowing these people, I want my vote to make life better - not just for me, but for them too.
This is because I believe and trust in the God who stood with those on the margins and whose prophets and whose Son spoke loudly about the need to address the injustice in the world.
We need to fashion our fiscal, social, educational and welfare policies around the notion of the common good. A genuinely big society working properly where the old are not left lonely, where the foreigner is welcomed, where the young are given hope. Where the wealth is spread around the regions and not left to pool in the South-East. Having moved north to Liverpool I have become part of a proud city and fine region that copes courageously with austerity but feels the injustice of cuts being disproportionately applied . That's what my first question is about.
When I hear of the work churches are doing to build a better society I think that we need people who can see that the church is part of the solution. In the short time since being Bishop of Liverpool I have been impressed by the work of our Food-banks, debt advice centres, Christian counselling services. I am humbled by faithful Christian colleagues getting alongside those with mental health problems, mentoring disadvantaged young people, befriending those with dementia and walking the journey, fighting the battle alongside those seeking asylum. The church is recapturing its spirit of serving others and through that service has much to offer this country. We need politicians to capture that vision and to work with us, with our colleagues of other faiths and with all people of good will to build a new moral vision of society. That's what my second question is about.
And then I hear of the dehumanising effects of our welfare system, a system that doesn't see an individual with individual needs. I meet people who are lost in that system. And I hear the negative language - not just from any single party - thrown against immigrants and asylum seekers. I see them branded as a lower form of humanity before they've been given a chance to tell their story, or prove their value. And I see a hard pressed, underfunded NHS and care system struggling to serve everyone, as our systems and structures become more and more mechanical and harsh. That's when I worry we have lost sight of the humanity of God's creation. When we have lost sight of the preciousness in everyone. That's why we need to vote for a society organised to value every individual. And that's what my third question is about.
I'm sick of the partisan politics of self-interest. I seek proper thoughtful politics that asks searching questions as together we build a better society. Society is divided and modern politics divisive. We see groups demonised and stereotyped - benefit scroungers, bankers, immigrants, asylum seekers - and in this atmosphere of easily cultivated hatred the poor and the vulnerable become voiceless and victimised.
My responsibility is not to moan, but to vote. To vote, and to work for the common good. My responsibility is to vote for, and work with, those with the moral vision and courage to work for a better society. That's what my three questions are about.Suggest a correction