Friday, May 27, 2016

EU Referendum: Are we asking the right questions?

The public discussion around the forthcoming referendum has been pretty disappointing, noisy, full of hyperbole and, as Ian Hislop noted on a recent episode of Have I Got News For You, at times has degenerated into someone from each side saying the other is a bit like Hitler.

This referendum (and recent elections) have vented a lot of steam on which choice would mean we are 'better off'. That got me thinking about what a Christian analysis of that question might look like.

First of all, what do we mean by 'better off'? Do we mean that voting this way or that will result in personal financial gain? For me that is a very inadequate assessment of the value of a choice. At the risk of sounding holier-than-thou, I think most people would acknowledge there are are things in life worth more than money. What if a choice that left me with the same, or even less money, led to a fairer or more just society? What about human rights, freedom, the environment, personal well-being etc? From a faith-based point of view, focussing purely on material (and especially financial) satisfaction is a wholly inadequate account of human flourishing.

Even if we restrict the debate to finance, the question we are left with is who is going to be financially better off? Economists and politicians are on the air a lot debating the effects on economic growth in the short and long term of staying in vs. leaving the EU. History would suggest that if our economy suffers significant decline, it's likely to hit the poorest and most vulnerable. However, when the economy has grown, concern has grown about the widening gap between the least and most affluent, and that the economic benefits of growth have disproportionately gone to the wealthy. How does our discussion about 'better off' relate to a Christian understanding of concern for the poor.

Even if we can identify which voting choice will bring the most growth, will it enrich the lives of those who most need it? That will depend on our own government's domestic policies and priorities, and the people at the helm of the Conservative Party, and hence the government until 2020 may well be decided by the outcome of this vote (unless 2/3 of MPs vote to dissolve Parliament early).

And I am also concerned that the economic discussion seems to have been limited to the impact of choices and policy simply for the UK (or even England). What impact might the decision we are taking have on the wider world, especially the poorest in the developing world? Will remain or leave be the choice that opens up the best opportunities for the peoples of our world who most need them? Where do our global neighbours feature in the debate?

In Luke's gospel, at the start of his public ministry, Jesus is recorded as reading this in the synagogue:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Would it be too much to ask to have some thoughtful engagement with some of those issues? I fear I already know the answer.

No comments: