General Election 2015: 'How doth the Truth prosper among you?'

By Jill Segger
April 1, 2015

Last night, three East Anglian Quakers sat round the kitchen table of their Area Meeting Clerk. We were stuffing envelopes – an activity which will be replicated in many kitchens and committee rooms over the next five weeks.

But the contents of these envelopes were not party newsletters or leaflets. We were engaged in ensuring that every candidate standing across the 10 constituencies of our Area Meeting received a copy of the small book of Quaker discipline and self-examination, 'Advices and Queries'.(http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21442)

At one point during this lengthy and tea-fuelled task, our conversation touched on how, just two days into the 'short campaign', we had all in some manner been sickened by the lies and obfuscations which had already emerged.

The Prime Minister had declared that “working families” would face an average £3,000 tax rise if Labour were to be elected. The claim soon unravelled. The Institute for Fiscal Studies issued a critique of this figure, calling it “not sensible or helpful” and describing David Cameron's calculations as being “of little value”. Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps, under pressure on Newsnight, admitted that the figure was “guesswork”.

No matter. The untruth designed to make electoral flesh creep was halfway round the voting world before the truth had laced its boots.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, had not only refused to reveal where the £12 billion further cuts which his party intend to make to the social security budget would fall, but appeared to think there was nothing remarkable in expecting voters to go blind into the voting booth in relation to this potentially disastrous impact on the lives of so many vulnerable citizens.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Douglas Alexander, though less contemptuous, nonetheless failed to clarify where Labour might make cuts. It seems that actions and policies which might inform and influence these electoral choices are of insufficient importance to merit clarity and honesty.

There are so many other instances of politicians misrepresenting or partially presenting facts, that it is difficult to draw a line on their exposition. Many of you will be able to add your own examples. But the real and significant damage lies in the fact that very few of us any longer believe what politicians put before us. This collapse of trust damages every one of us.

Remember the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!”? He encompassed not only his own destruction but that of those whose interests should have coincided with his own. Once trust has been destroyed, it is immensely difficult to restore and makes creative engagement and positive action all but impossible.

When 17th century Quakers put together the first version of Advices and Queries, they posed this question to their isolated and persecuted communities: “How doth the Truth prosper among you?” We – and that means politicians, activists and voters – must never cease from asking ourselves that question.

*General Election 2015 focus: 'Vote for what you believe in'. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21487

* More on the issues in the 2015 General Election from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/generalelection2015

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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