Right-To-Lifers, Voting, and General Election 2015
by Peter D. Williams
Just before Easter, the Westminster Parliament was dissolved, and now former MPs and other prospective parliamentary candidates are battling in constituencies across the country, as the various parties fight to form, or be part of, the next Government.
The outcome of Elections are crucial to life issues, and so a key question for right-to-lifers has to be how to make their vote count in support of the effort to build a culture that respects and defends human dignity. Despite this, the British right-to-life movement has been, in some ways, a sleeping giant in electoral politics. Whilst there are many people across the country who sympathise with our beliefs and goals in campaigning for protections of the most vulnerable, the wider political consequences of this have scarcely been felt.
This is often because of the British practice of voting for parties in General Elections (putting an ‘X’ next to Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, or others), regardless of the individual candidate that each party has proposed as a potential MP. Such an approach to voting has a fundamental problem: right-to-life matters are not normally matters of party policy. but are instead subject to ‘conscience votes’ in Parliament, in which each member gets to vote freely according to their personal beliefs. Our issues are thus largely independent of party manifestos; it is the consciences of individual MPs that truly matter.
Consequently, supporters of the right to life can exist as MPs in almost every party. Fiona Bruce MP, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (APPPLG), is a Conservative. Yet the previous APPPLG chair, Jim Dobbin MP – whom last year, was sadly lost to Parliament and the right-to-life movement, when he died on a trip to Poland – was a staunch Labour MP. There is likewise a party mix within parliamentary right-to-lifers: David Burrowes MP and Jonathans Evans MP are Conservatives, Robert Flello MP and Mary Glindon MP are Labour, and John Pugh MP is a Liberal Democrat. Minority parties such as the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and UKIP, also have right-to-lifers in their ranks.
In order for the right-to-life movement to really have an effect on British politics therefore, each of us needs to vote not merely on our preferences for individual parties, but on the beliefs of each candidate. That might mean that, for example, someone who normally votes Labour should vote for a right-to-life supporting Conservative, or a staunch Tory should vote for a right-to-life supporting Labour or Liberal Democrat candidate. ‘Candidate, not party’, should be our mantra.
For many people however, an obstacle exists to acting in this way, as finding out what the views are of individual candidates on right-to-life issues is itself a challenge. Thankfully, a new resource exists that should enable such information to become more widely available.
As RTL noted earlier, an independent website has been set up called ‘Where Do They Stand?’. This records the views of the prospective parliamentary candidates in every constituency in the country on abortion and assisted suicide. If any British voter enters their postcode on the home page, it takes them to the records for their constituency. This should be a quick and easy way for people to find out the views of their candidates on crucial and basic issues of human rights, and allow them to cast an informed vote.
The website is a voluntary, public site, that draws on information provided by private individuals based on conversations with or letters they will have received from their local candidates. For many constituencies, no record will be available, as no-one who lives there has yet asked their local candidates what they believe on the life issues. For right-to-lifers then, there is an important job to do.
If you go on the website and find that there is a lack of information available on candidates in your constituency on any issue, then it will allow you to request information from them by sending them an e-mail with a prepared questionnaire. If you do this, the candidates may respond to your e-mail, and you can contact the website with the information given to you, so that the people who run it can add the necessary information on the website profiles for each candidate. This will enable better and more helpful information to be publicly available, and for more informed voting to take place, all of which is in the interests of democracy in general, and the the right-to-life movement in particular.
The one weakness of the website is that its creators have apparently decided to limit its focus to the top three parties in each constituency. This leaves most parties, with smaller minorities in Westminster, entirely absent. Any RTL supporter needing advice on how to contact the candidates of parties left unrepresented on ‘Where Do They Stand?’ on their views regarding life issues, or who would like to know or contribute information on the views of such candidates, should contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will act to help as best we can.
Another point to consider is local Hustings (meetings where members of the public can ask candidates questions). The website Engage15 has an online list here that tells you if, when, and where such events may take place. If PPCs won’t answer e-mails or letters, they may at least feel obliged to give some information when publicly questioned, so if you can go along to the Hustings and ask them directly in the meeting, or else privately thereafter if you are not called on to say your question, any answer you gain you could then pass on to RTL!
Further, if the Hustings are organised by a local group, such as Christians Together, you can look online to see if they are taking any questions in advance, as some have been doing. This may help in making sure that a question from you about life issues gets asked to the candidates. A surreptitious recording of their answers on iPhone might also be helpful for later summary. Again, RTL is happy to help in whatever way we can.
All such resources are useful tools, but only if the sleeping giant that is the right-to-life movement in this country properly awakens and uses them. If every right-to-lifer voted according to the beliefs expressed by individual candidates, then mainstream politics would be forced to take life issues more seriously, as it would become clear to politicians that a significant number of people care about them, and vote on the basis of how politicians would vote on the right to life. For longer term progress to be made however, we need to take a further step and become involved in politics directly. By joining the various parties – especially mainstream ones – and working to get candidates selected who believe in the human dignity of every human being, right-to-lifers could make most profound contribution towards a more compassionate and just political culture in our country.
In all these ways, and especially in the next few days through use of this new website resource, work to build a culture of life in British politics. Above all, remember to make an informed vote, basing your choice on the extent the candidates in your constituency make room in their consciences for the dignity and rights of every human being.