Conservatism, compassion, and the EU
The command to help the poor and needy is carried into the New Testament, where compassion became the Church’s principal raison d’être. While man does not live by bread alone, he is certainly far more receptive to spiritual nourishment when the belly is full. And so the Early Church supplied the needs of the poor out of its own resources (Acts 4:36f), and took it upon itself to respond to national disasters (11:27ff). There was no state provision, no welfare, no notion of relative poverty; the Church encouraged individuals to show compassion, and thus to reflect something of the heart of God, restoring hope in an era of hopelessness.
If politicians have any task, it is to show compassion; to ensure provision for those who are unable to lead their lives unaided; to restore a sense of community and responsibility in an era that deifies individuality and rights; to inject hope in a world beset by loneliness and isolation. David Cameron identified these concerns in Brussels this week, criticising the European Union for its ‘culture of hopelessness’, the immorality of the Common Agricultural Policy which yields ‘economic and humanitarian disaster’, and its financial system that is ‘wide open to fraud’. He concluded: ‘It’s not good enough and it’s got to change.’
He might just ponder the legacy of the ERM, and the present situation on the Continent as a result of the single currency. In many EU countries, companies are being condemned to closure, workers to unemployment, families to homelessness, and their national governments can do little to alleviate their suffering. There is a real human cost in terms of suicides, heart attacks, divorces and mental breakdowns. Mr Cameron has called for action, for relevance, yet he has not uttered a word of policy. How will he succeed where Margaret Thatcher failed? What will he try that John Major did not? Whence comes his authority which Tony Blair does not already possess?
It is one thing to boast that his engagement with the EU will be somehow ‘better than Gordon Brown’s’, but this was also the boast of Blair against Major in 1997. Nothing changed. Mr Cameron was elected leader of his party with a ‘cast iron’ pledge to divorce Conservative MEPs from the EPP ‘within weeks not months’. This has been kicked into the long grass, and is now to be fulfilled within years. And perhaps most revealing is his directive that any Conservative MP who advocates withdrawal from the EU will be permanently barred from serving on his Front Bench. This does not sound like a strategy to critically engage with the profound flaws inherent in the European Union project.
How can the abdication to unaccountable, immovable, foreign control of the responsibility for fundamental human needs ever be justified from a Christian perspective? God manifestly cares for the poor, the oppressed, and the underdogs in society. He pours his wrath upon those who corrupt justice or create economic machines designed to provide more wealth for the wealthy and deprive the poor. The story of Naboth’s vineyard (1Kings 21) establishes that authorities are not free to pursue any policy they please or to ride roughshod over the rights of the poor. These same concerns are vehemently expressed by the prophets Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, writing in the 8th century BC.
God demands political conviction seared by conscience. If Mr Cameron is serious about his EU reformation, he needs to nail his 95 theses to the door of the Commission in Brussels, whatever the political fallout. Only then will he communicate to the rest of Europe that he means business, and that he will address the root causes of EU corruption. And like Luther, he must reluctantly prepare for possible schism. Only then will people believe his promise to bring the redemption of Compassionate Conservatism to those who long for liberation from the yokes of loneliness, poverty, and oppression.