Manse Message for Summer 2010

Publication deadlines mean that I am writing this the day before the General Election. Huge uncertainty exists regarding its likely outcome. A ‘hung parliament’ being touted as the most probable result with no one party gaining overall majority. Whatever the outcome, no doubt you will have had your fill of election campaigns, broadcasts, debates and promises. The last thing I want to do is add to your mounting sense of depression!

For the first time ever, leaders of the three principal national political parties took part in televised debates. Great was the media hype and even greater the expectation of pundits that such a forum would reveal the political gravitas and nous of each candidate. The reality was somewhat different.

Policies were hinted at rather than fully explained and the whole event proved little more than an exercise in point scoring and personal preening. Questions were asked by the audience with immigration and the financial deficit the main concerns raised. Yet little new information was offered other than the soundbites with which we had already become familiar. Maybe we – the public – have only ourselves to blame for that. Any time one of the parties tried to give a fuller response indicating the depth of cuts and increased taxes necessary to fill the gaping cavern in our national finances, poll ratings would immediately plummet. End of fuller responses.

However, the fact remains, how we can best address the crushing level of financial debt our nation faces as a result of the banking crisis and recession will continue to exercise the collective minds of the new
parliament and the nation for some time to come. Whichever party is elected to Government, tough action and hard, hard decisions will have to be made before long. Unpopular though they may be in the short term.

It is often jokingly said that no-one likes paying taxes. Certainly, no-one likes waste and taxpayers’ money ought to be used in the most effective way possible. But that said, taxes are the main income source for a Government and are one of the signs that we all belong together in a society that seeks to be civilised. Informed commentators have indicated the urgent need both for cuts in public services and rise in taxation. If they are indeed necessary, let us hope they may be implemented as fairly as possible, mindful of the straits already faced by the poorest and most dependent in society.

One of the characteristics of the early Christian Church is the way in which it very quickly looked after the poor. St Paul, for example, went to a great deal of trouble to raise money from the church groupings around the Mediterranean for those in need. He regarded this as a fundamental sign of Christian fellowship, an essential mark of what it meant to be true human  beings, people who belong to each  other in the deepest sense.
Of course, that was voluntary. But our motive behind taxes today need not be totally different. The taxes we pay are also a sign of our solidarity with one another and a mark that we wish as a society to hold to certain decencies and standards of care for everyone – no matter how great or humble, rich or poor. They are also an acknowledgement of the fact that we all do have a responsibility to one another and that there is a price to pay – a price worth paying – for the common good. Indeed, we might even regard them as a kind of ‘sacrament’ reminding us that we all belong together within the one society.

As our political leaders in Government disclose more of their policies for tackling the enormous financial challenges we all face in this nation, as others do throughout the world, maybe if they ever had the courage to say this they might be surprised by the strength of our support.
Jim Gibson

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