The three main party manifestos tell you surprisingly little about where the parties stand on issues of politics, conscience and faith – there is nothing, for example, on euthanasia. Only the Labour Party suggests any change in abortion law, proposing that the 1967 Abortion Act be applied to Northern Ireland too. But do not be deceived by this apparent silence: the main reason for this is because understanding the moral landscape of British politics today requires a large degree of political decoding.
Especially when it comes to religious issues. Manifestos are now as much about what is left out as what is put in. They are about prescribing a “tone” rather than offering detailed policy (the Tory manifesto is a slimline 84 pages). There is no doubt that the subtext of the Conservative manifesto is more mainstream – and moral – than previous Tory manifestos. But you have to read the document closely to understand the philosophical hinterland of the next Tory government.
May is not so much aiming at the aspirational middle class but rather tout society, especially the Labour working class. She is seeking to wipe out the very notion of elitism and class through the higher authority of the Good State. May refers to a “belief” not just in society but also in the good that government can do. Slave traders are pilloried as “evil”.
Under May, good government operates like a benevolent higher power that rewards the good and hardworking (ie small business owners) and punishes the wicked (child traffickers) – all for the common good of country and community.
This has troubled some traditional Tories who celebrate the cult of individual enterprise and responsibility. May’s vision of Britain is of a government that is tolerant and virtuous without expressly being fettered to faith issues that might alienate some voters.
The Tory manifesto is silent on abortion and genetics. Yes, there’s talk about “tackling hate crime committed on the basis of religion” and it makes a welcome commitment to replacing the “unfair and ineffective inclusivity rules that prevent the establishment of Roman Catholic schools”. But there is little in the hard print that gives away how this radical Conservative manifesto is the vision of a church-going vicar’s daughter for whom faith means so much personally. Silence on such matters may well prove to be a winning tactic.
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