Monday, 3 May 2010

It is worth considering a vote for the least bad option – Gold and Silver Stars explained

The expenses controversy, the economic crisis and the undermining of protection for human life, marriage and Christian conscience in the last ten years has led many Christians to lose faith in politicians generally. Many are also disillusioned with all of the three main parties and especially the three leaders, all of whom have at best mixed voting records on issues of Christian conscience.

As a result some Christians have decided this year either to vote for local Christian candidates with no real prospect of winning or not to vote at all. An alternative approach is to vote for the ‘least bad option’, the best candidate with a realistic chance of winning the seat.

Westminster 2010, as it focuses primarily on issues of conscience is not party political. We recognise that no party or no candidate is perfect. However, as citizens living in a democracy we do have a responsibility to vote and it is clear that there are some candidates who are preferable to others.

So far, on the basis of past voting records, public statements and replies to emails we have been able to identify over 800 parliamentary candidates whose position on Christian conscience issues is known. Our grading system of red, green and grey symbols is explained on the Westminster 2010 blog.

250 candidates have made the pledge to ‘respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’. Another 250 are known to be supportive on the basis of past voting records or personal statements. A further 300 are known to be unsupportive.

About 6 million people in the UK regularly attend church; about 10,000 in each constituency. Committed Christians are only a minority group but our votes can have a real impact in marginal constituencies. The parliament we end up with will be determined entirely by what happens in marginal constituencies as they are the only ones which are going to change hands in a close-run election.

We have therefore taken the 300 most marginal constituencies in the UK and tried to identify in each a ‘preferred option’. This information is now displayed on our candidates page and is being constantly updated as new data comes to light.

Currently we have ‘preferred option’ candidates identified in 250 marginal constituencies or 84% of the total. Of these 58 have made the pledge and a further 91 are known to be supportive. Another 101 are tactical votes aimed at keeping someone who is known to be unsupportive out of office.

The preferred candidates include 192 Conservatives, 35 Liberal Democrats, 19 Labour, 2 SNP and 2 Independents. Conservatives dominate for two main reasons.

First, if we look at current MPs’ past voting records, in general Labour and Liberal Democrats have voted for the legislation that is now being used to discriminate against Christians, whilst Conservatives have opposed it. There are notable exceptions of course on both sides. Several members of the Conservative front bench, for example, have very poor voting records but unfortunately they are not in marginal seats.

Second, in the vast majority of marginal seats with a Labour or Liberal Democrat MP with a poor voting record, it is a Conservative rather than a Liberal Democrat Candidate who is in second place and stands the best chance of winning. Many of these unfortunately are still unknown quantities and we have been frustrated somewhat in our analysis by Conservative Central Office advising its candidates not to respond to us or to send us cut-and-paste replies.

Of the 192 ‘preferred option’ Conservatives candidates 78 are sitting Conservative MPs with good voting records. A further 30 have made the pledge. The remaining 84 are simply tactical votes lying second to Labour or Liberal Democrat MPs with poor voting records. We have no data on them and for all we know these candidates may be no better than the sitting MPs whose seats they are attempting to win.

We have marked each ‘preferred option’ candidate as follows:

Gold Star - has made a pledge to 'respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’ and/or is known to be supportive on the basis of past voting records, public statements or correspondence and also stands a good chance of winning the seat.

Silver Star – position on conscience issues is unknown to us but they are the candidate with the best chance of winning against someone who is known to be unsupportive

The ultimate decision is yours. We are not telling you how to vote but simply providing information for you to weigh in making your choice. You may have local knowledge of your candidates which we don’t have and there are many other sources of information for you to draw on in deciding which candidate gets your vote. We particularly recommend the excellent resources on the Christian Institute website including their election briefing, MP voting records and party manifestos.

However, where you place your cross on polling day is a matter of Christian conscience for you alone to decide. We know you will praying earnestly about it. Overall let's pray that God is glorified in his people in this election. To God be all the glory.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

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