Equipping Christians for the General Election

The Conservatives will form the next UK Government
James Mildred

Hoc chamber It was billed as the closest election in a generation. The polls repeatedly showed Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck. Then there were the unknown entities; what impact would the SNP have? And what about UKIP? It was widely thought that there would be another hung parliament and days, maybe weeks of long and drawn out negotiations.

As the dust settles on the 2015 General Election, the Conservatives under David Cameron have secured an overall majority and will form the next Government. The BBC’s exit poll gave an early indication of what might happen forecasting 316 seats for the Conservatives and 239 for Labour with the SNP taking 58 and the Liberal Democrats just 10 seats. As the night progressed the exit poll was proved broadly correct with the Liberal Democrats and Labour Party losing seats across the country. 

It was a long and at times emotional night for winners and losers with familiar faces in all the main parties losing their seats.  In Scotland, the losses were by far greatest for Labour as 56 SNP MPs were elected likened by the newly elected Alex Salmond MP, to a lion roaring across Scotland.  Labour were left with just a solitary seat in Scotland as were the Lib Dems while the Conservatives held on to their one MP.  It is now thought the tricky question of ‘Scotland’ will dominate the next parliamentary term.

The final results look like this: Conservatives 330 seats (majority of 12), Labour 232, SNP 56, Liberal Democrats 8, DUP 8, other parties (including  the other Northern Ireland parties, UKIP, Greens, and  Plaid Cymru) have 15 seats.  Full results including details of your own constituency’s poll can be found on the BBC website.

The fallout has already begun. Miliband, Clegg and Farage have all resigned. Clegg left saying the result was the worst in his party’s history. Miliband said the cause he fought for would remain his cause and he said he would continue to fight for the values he believed in.

Now the election has been decided, what about our own response? It is vital that we uphold our new government in prayer. Whoever you voted for, we are told in 2 Timothy to pray for those in authority over us. There are many challenges ahead and those who govern our country will need wisdom to navigate the various challenges that will arise.

We can also give thanks for free and fair elections. We should never take such blessings for granted.

 Another election is over and we have a new government. Now we must carry on engaging and building relationships as we move ahead over the next few years.

Procedure….what happens after May 7th?
James Mildred

The dictionary defines procedure as the official way a particular task is carried out. Since we had a coalition government in 2010, we can expect a similar procedure following Thursday can’t we? Does the fact we’ve gone through coalition shenanigans once already mean we’re prepared for what is about to happen?

Well, truthfully it’s a little more complicated. Britain does not have a written constitution, so there are no rules regarding what can happen written down in law. What do exist are comprehensive guidelines produced by the Civil Service. It comes down to this: it is less about the number of seats you have and more to do with whether you can win votes and get the Queen’s speech through. We may have a minority government, for example and the chances of them surviving for any decent length of time depend entirely on whether they can get a Queen’s speech through the parliament. If not, chances are we’ll be going through this election charade all over again (please contain your excitement).

At the moment, it should come as no surprise so much of the discussion and campaigning is all to do with ‘legitimacy’. Expect to hear that word a lot more over the coming 48 hours, and beyond. You see, it’s all about being legit. In 2010, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats said the Tories, as the largest party had first right to try and form a government. Now he was making it all up as he went along. And the reason? But the justification used was that magic word: legitimacy. Any party attempting to form the government needs credibility and needs to be seen to be legitimate.

As for what we do know this much is clear: following a hung parliament (the likeliest outcome) David Cameron will remain Prime Minister until he resigns, or is able to suggest a successor to the Queen. Best case scenario for him is he is able to recommend himself. The ministers of state also stay in place, but don’t expect any major decisions to be taken. Because Cameron is the incumbent Prime Minister, some argue he has the first right to form a Government. But Miliband has every right to muck right in as well. So expect an even more frenzied period of negotiations this time round. It will go on until either Mr Cameron forms a government, or if it becomes clear he can’t, the expectation then will be that he will resign.

Now all the parties are free to talk to each other at any given point. There are no rules to govern these conversations, except a general idea of fair play (how frightfully British). No doubt these high profile, riveting conversations will be speculated on by the media. But ultimately, until our next Prime Minister stands outside that famous black door and announces the formation of the next government, we can but speculate.

Two dates are worth bearing in mind: on May 18th, MPs will be sworn in and a Speaker elected. Then on May 27th 2015, the Queen (or will it be?) will arrive for the State opening of parliament. An occasion marked by much pomp, ceremony and an absurdly long robe that must be a nightmare to walk in. Yet given how complicated everything is, there is a chance the Queen’s speech may not even be given by Her Majesty. In which case, I for one will not be watching.

We’ve put together a short video, where we asked voters what they think is going to be the outcome – have a watch here:

South Belfast husting
James Mildred

*The following is written by Alan Sheppard*

A beautiful sunny Thursday evening (30th April), witnessed Windsor Baptist Church, Belfast host the hustings for the South Belfast constituency (the sixth and final 2015 Election hustings organised by Evangelical Alliance and CARE in Northern Ireland). It featured four of the nine candidates standing with an audience of around 90 people listening intently to the candidates (or their stand-ins) as initially they succinctly outlined their key arguments as to why people should elect them as MP for South Belfast.microphone

Candidates then responded to a testing range of pre-set questions on: their key priorities should they be elected as MP; EU membership and their views on an in-out referendum; their views on beginning and end of life issues; the role and place (if any) of faith in developing public policy; who are the most vulnerable in society and how should they be helped; renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent; the exercise of conscience in public office; and preferences in any pact or coalition in the event of a hung parliament. Throughout the first half of the evening the audience listened in virtual silence to each candidate’s response. However, the contrasting and changing body language of some members of the audience revealed more than a hint of either agreement or opposition to responses given.

The whole proceedings were conducted in a dignified and respectful manner but became more interactive as candidates responded to a varied range of audience questions covering: why so few female candidates standing in Northern Ireland constituencies; how to end sectarianism; the need for reform of “petition of concern” mechanism; the need for a broader school curriculum; and expanding integrated and or shared education. As one might expect, candidates expressed diverse and sharply contrasting views on some subjects with robustness and clarity though at times with a little welcomed humour.

This was my third time at an election hustings and I found it really refreshing to hear the personal experiences, views and convictions of individual candidates on some of the more difficult and contentious social, economic and ethical issues. I sensed that the audience could be in little doubt of the key values, attitudes and beliefs held by those candidates present. Talking to some people after the event these will influence how they, family and friends vote on 7th May.

Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) – Where the Parties Stand
Public Affairs

CARE supports a decentralised approach to SRE with a very significant role for parents. We support the current law that requires all secondary schools to teach SRE and provides primary schools with the option of doing so should the governors determine that this is appropriate for their school. For more information please see our Sex and Relationship Education page which can be accessed here.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have committed to centralise the SRE curriculum through the National Curriculum and argue that it should be provided in an age appropriate way to all school children from 5 years old. The Plaid Cymru manifesto suggests a similar approach when it says: “All children and young people should receive a comprehensive programme of healthy relationships education.”

Although the Conservatives manifesto does not expressly say so, it is very clear from recent policy statements that the Party is committed to decentralisation. A similar approach is set out in the UKIP manifesto. The Ulster Unionist Party state that they will “ensure young people leave education with a better understanding of sexual and cultural diversity through age-appropriate teaching.”

While they do not specify how this will happen, it is notable that they talk about young people, whereas the Labour, Lib Dem and Plaid manifestos commit to sex education for all children. With respect to the Ulster Unionist manifesto, though, the point should be made that in a Northern Ireland context decisions about SRE will actually be made by the Northern Ireland Assembly, not by Westminster. However, for so long as parliamentarians from any part of the UK can participate in Westminster SRE votes, the views of Northern Irish and indeed Scottish MP’s on the matter will be very relevant.

 

Domestic Religious Liberty and Equality– Where the Parties Stand
Public Affairs

EqualityCARE is very concerned about the way in which equality law is increasingly being used to require Christian employees or businessmen and women to either be willing to act in violation of their faith identity or to leave their profession and cease service provision. This is principally the result of pressing the rights of one equality strand, sexual orientation, without regard for its impact on another, religion and belief. To find out more please see our religious liberty policy page here

Mindful of this concern it is worrying that many of the manifestos express a desire to further extend sexual orientation rights and make no balancing reference to domestic religion and belief rights.

  • Labour state that they will tackle homophobia “with tougher laws at home and greater engagement abroad” They also promise to “appoint an International LGBT Rights Envoy to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT people, and work towards the decriminalisation of homosexuality worldwide.” As well as “appoint a Global Envoy for Religious Freedom, and establish a multi-faith advisory council on religious freedom within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
  • The Green Party suggest that they will “press the Commonwealth to grant accredited status to a Commonwealth LGBTIQ Association and to urge all member states to end the criminalisation of homosexuality and to protect LGBTIQ citizens against discrimination and hate crime.” They also state that they will “uphold the principles of freedom of speech and peaceful protest, including support for vulnerable communities of all religious faiths and none.”
  • The Conservatives promise to “continue to champion equality for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people” and “stand up for the freedom of people of all religions – and non-religious people – to practise their beliefs in peace and safety.”
  • The Lib Dems pledge to “promote international recognition of same sex marriages and civil partnership” through its International LGBT Rights Strategy. In addition, the Lib Dems will “ensure all faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy and end unfair discrimination on grounds of faith when recruiting staff, except for those principally responsible for optional religious instruction.”
  • Plaid Cymru stated that they will “ensure that LGBT rights are understood and implemented on a global scale”. They will also “toughen sentencing on homo, bi and transphobic hate crime and work closely with police authorities to ensure widespread recording.”
  • The SNP stated that they will establish a special envoy within the Foreign Office LGBTI people across the world.
  • The Alliance party in Northern Ireland would like to see the “extension of the civil marriage provisions to same sex couples, provided that robust protections are provided through legislation to protect faith groups and religious celebrants who do not wish to marry same-sex couples.” They have also indicated their opposition to a conscience clause. They state that they would ask “every service to audit how their services are provided to LGBT people to ensure no accidental bias is included in the public services.”
  • Sinn Fein pledged to oppose a conscience clause and stated that they will support marriage equality. They also stated that they will push for “equal treatment of prospective LGBT parents in reproductive and adoptive services, and in related social and other public services.”
  • The Green National party in Northern Ireland suggested that they will “work bring down the barriers holding back those from lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ), or black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, disabled people, the old and the young, and any other marginalised groups.” They stated that they will “call in particular for the equal right to marry for all people here in Northern Ireland.“
  • The only Party manifestos to offer something different are UKIP and TUV.
  • UKIP promised to “uphold freedom of speech” and promise to “challenge the culture of offence which the party believes is shutting down free speech”.
  • And the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) stated that they were opposed to “the aggressive gay rights agenda which gives no space to the rights of others.”

The Party that has done more to address this issue than any other, however, is the Democratic Unionist Party with its Conscience Clause Bill, but that is not mentioned in its manifesto since it is a proposal for the Northern Ireland Assembly, not the Westminster Parliament.

Online Safety – Where the Parties Stand
Public Affairs

Online-SafetyCARE is very concerned about the easy access of adult material like pornography on the internet which children can either deliberately seek out or accidentally stumble on. CARE is also very concerned about online safety behavioural challenges like cyber bullying, sexting and grooming.

We propose: a) an opt-in system of filtering with the option for anyone to opt-in to access adult content subject to age verification to deal with the first challenge and b) better education to deal with the second. To read more please see our online safety policy page here

 The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto commits to requiring the introduction of age verification in relation to adult content online. The Ulster Unionist Party manifesto also mentions a commitment to bring forward measures to enhance online safety. The Lib Dem manifesto, meanwhile, does not mention online safety but does include a commitment to net neutrality which is suggestive of a much more hands off approach, although this is qualified by a commitment to provide children and young people with guidance to support them online. The Labour manifesto does not mention the subject at all but the Labour Front Bench has certainly been supportive of Baroness Howe’s Online Safety Bill. Similarly the DUP manifesto does not mention the subject but again a number of DUP members have been very supportive of Lady Howe.

Marriage Support – Where the Parties Stand
Public Affairs

Marriage-SupportCARE believes that marriage is an exclusive relationship between a man and woman for life, the wellbeing of which is central to the wellbeing of society as a whole. Given that marriage is the most stable form of couple relationship and that the cost of family breakdown is now estimated to be £46 billion per annum, CARE believes that it is important for government to invest in marriage support services which comprise of marriage preparation, marriage enrichment and marriage guidance counselling. To find out more please read our marriage support policy page here.

Given its importance it is disappointing that no party manifesto expressly mentions marriage support services. The Conservative manifesto, however, does mention its commitment to maintain investment of at least £7.5 million per annum in relationship support which includes marriage support.

Prostitution – Where the Parties Stand
Public Affairs

ProstitutionCARE is deeply concerned about the suffering associated with prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation in the UK. We do not believe it will possible to address this problem unless we are prepared to tackle head-on the demand for paid sex which means making it an offence to buy. Sweden took the lead in this regard in 1999 and the impact has been so positive that other countries have since followed including Norway, Iceland, Canada and most recently Northern Ireland. To find out more please see our prostitution policy page here.

It is disappointing that no party made any reference to prostitution in their manifestos. In this context it is not possible to make any comments about the position of any party in relation to prostitution by reference to manifesto commitments. We must instead look at other indications of policy.

–          England and Wales

The Labour Party’s shadow cabinet tabled amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill calling for a review of the links between prostitution and human trafficking and sexual exploitation, including examining the laws in other EU countries and their effects. The Coalition (Conservative and Liberal Democrats) Government rejected Labour’s amendments.

Although it does not have the effect of making it official party policy, it is worth noting that the Liberal Democrat’s conference 2014 passed a motion opposing the so called ‘Nordic model’ of laws on prostitution which criminalises the purchase of sexual services.

In the Green Party’s long term policy document on Rights and Responsibilities which was updated in March 2015, the party state that they are in favour of decriminalising prostitution and legalising brothels.

–          Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland has already addressed this issue. The DUP, SDLP, UUP and Sinn Fein all supported the clause criminalising purchase of sexual services in what is now the Northern Ireland Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 when it was debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Although this issue is devolved, for so long as parliamentarians from any part of the UK can vote on English and Welsh laws the view of Northern Ireland and indeed Scottish parliamentarians will be very relevant to all Westminster votes relating to prostitution law.

Human Trafficking – Where the Parties Stand
Public Affairs

Human-Trafficking-NewCARE campaigns for better anti-trafficking legislation as it relates to: the demand that sustains trafficking to the UK, caring for the victims of trafficking and prosecuting the perpetrators. To find out more please see our policy page here.

Although, as you will see, many parties gave significant space to human trafficking, it is concerning that none of them directly engaged with the underlying problem of UK demand for trafficked people. Significant attention has been given, however, to victim care and better prosecution:

  • The Labour manifesto contains a promise to “end the indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system, ending detention for pregnant women and those who have been the victims of sexual abuse or trafficking.”
  • The Liberal Democrats state that they will “implement the Modern Slavery Strategy to reduce people trafficking and support victims.” They will also “create a national helpline for victims of domestic and sexual violence – regardless of gender – to provide support, encourage reporting and secure more convictions.”
  • The Green partywill implement a UK-wide strategy to tackle violence against women, including domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse, female genital mutilation and trafficking.” They state that they will also “will ensure that those who have been trafficked are not subject to summary deportation; we must protect the victims of trafficking.  They should receive a temporary right to stay and have the same right to apply to remain as others seeking to migrate.”
  • Plaid Cymru pledges to “work across the UK and European Union to prevent modern slavery and to support those subjected to such experiences.”
  • UKIPbelieves it is time for a review of what is and what is not a criminal offence and we will commit to such a review, together with a review of commensurate sentencing policy to address the changing nature of crime today. The emphasis of such a review is likely to be on up to date sentencing procedures and processes for internet/cyber crime, sexual crime relating to minors, fraud, aggression, intimidation, people trafficking and gang masters and drug & substance abuse.”
  • The SDLP say that they “will work with the British and Irish Governments to tackle organised crime through the establishment of an all-island Organised Crime Taskforce. Smuggling, fuel laundering and human trafficking are cross-border crimes and require a cross border approach to stop them.”
  • The Alliance party state that they will “promote collaborative efforts to tackle global crimes which require an integrated national and international response. These include; human trafficking, fuel laundering and counterfeiting. We recognise that the profits from these crimes fund illegal organisations.” And “fight against slave labour, human trafficking and advocate the end of UK support for arms sales to countries engaged in these activities.”
  • The Ulster Unionist party state that they will “monitor the PSNI’s efforts in tackling the threats posed by serious crime.”
  • The Democratic Unionist party say that “the National Crime Agency (NCA) is an essential tool in tackling serious organised crime in the United Kingdom whether it is drug dealing, racketeering, smuggling or the activity of child pornography and exploitation. […] Now that our law enforcement agencies have this essential resource it must be put to full use.”
  • Other PointsSeveral of the manifestos focussed on issues of labour exploitation especially as it impacts migrant workers and also made specific commitments to tackling child sexual exploitation.
  • The Labour manifesto states that they will work with companies to “ensure they have sustainable supply chains that are free from slavery, treat their workers fairly, and pay taxes where they are due.” Labour will also “introduce a new law to stop employers undercutting wages by exploiting workers.”  They will also “ban recruitment agencies hiring only from overseas and crack down on rogue agencies by extending the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority where there is evidence of abuse.”
  • The Labour manifesto also says they will establish a “new child protection unit…to work across government, driving progress in the prevention of child abuse and sexual exploitation.”
  • The Conservatives will “identify illegal immigrants and businesses that employ illegal workers.”
  • The Conservative manifesto also states “we will continue the urgent work of overhauling how our police, social services and other agencies work together to protect vulnerable children, especially from the kind of organised grooming and sexual exploitation that has come to light in Rotherham, and other towns and cities across the UK.”
  • Plaid Cymru pledges to “protect local workers by strengthening the Gangmasters Licensing Act, making it illegal to offer unfair advantage or incentive to migrant workers over local worker.”

Online Gambling – Where the Parties Stand
Public Affairs

GamblingCARE campaigns for better protections for problem gamblers in the UK, especially those who struggle with an online gambling addiction. For more information please see our gambling policy page here.

 Of particular concern, not a single party saw fit to mention any new provisions to better protect online problem gamblers in their manifestos. The Conservative manifesto, however, did make reference to having introduced tougher regulation of gambling which would seem to be a reference to the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 which was concerned with online gambling. While the position of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with respect to the need to provide one stop-shop self-exclusion and financial transaction blocking through the Gambling Bill was disappointing, the good news is that they compromised and asked the Gambling Commission to deliver one stop shop self-exclusion and financial transaction blocking without introducing new legislation. The Labour Party voted for both amendments to provide one stop shop self-exclusion and financial transaction blocking through the Gambling Bill, as did the Democratic Unionist Party which led on one stop shop self-exclusion.

It is important to note that the manifestos had a lot more to say about terrestrial gambling. Labour stated that “communities will also be able to review betting shop licences in their area and reduce the number of fixed-odds betting terminals in existing betting shops- or ban them entirely- in response to local concerns.” UKIP states that they “will update licensing laws in response to calls from local authorities to limit the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 down to £2, to tackle problem gambling and anti-social behaviour.” The Scottish National Party has also suggested that they would like to “see the devolution of the regulation of gambling in order to address issues related to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals and the proliferation of betting shops in some communities.”