Boris Johnson greeted his election triumph with an appeal to “let the healing begin”. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster issued a statement soon afterwards reflecting similar sentiments, saying the “clarity” of the result (a reference to the large Tory majority of 80 seats) presented a chance for a “fresh start” following years of “toxic” wrangling “dominated by blame”.
“We have to put that behind us, look each other in the eye and see the good in the other,” the cardinal said. “As we approach Christmas it is the birth of Christ, the embodiment of God’s goodness, that we celebrate.
It is that streak of goodness written in every person that we have to see and rediscover. Concentrating on the good in every person is the fresh start we should seek.”
Such a “kinder, gentler politics”, once also proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the vanquished Labour leader, might have its place. Many Britons, however, might simply accept acrimony as an inevitable by-product of the country’s adversarial and essentially two-party political system when the stakes are exceptionally high.
Of course, the election was principally about the crucial matter of Brexit – that is the reason it was called – along with such vital underlying issues as the relationship between MPs and their electorates.
Yet the temperature was raised by more than just Brexit. Take the complaints of Britain’s Jewish population, for example. Anti-Semitism has become so deep-rooted in the ideology of some on the hard left that Jews viewed the election with burning anxiety, with 10 Jewish Labour MPs quitting the party and the Chief Rabbi abandoning traditional political neutrality to warn voters against the perils of a Labour government.
For a party which has always prided itself on giving minorities a voice, Mr Corbyn’s “manifesto of hope” offered few crumbs of comfort for followers of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
His pledge to completely decriminalise abortion led pro-life organisations and some Christian leaders to believe that this would lead to abortion on demand up to birth. If this were to be the case then it is understandable that Lord Alton of Liverpool described it as “barbaric”.
The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, promised to decriminalise abortion up to 24 weeks and erect buffer zones around lucrative abortion clinics to keep praying Christians at bay. Lib Dem veteran Sir Simon Hughes, commenting on the atrocious performance of his party at the polls, said he believed it could have taken more than 50 seats but it had been reckless in throwing many of its potential supporters “under a bus”.
Perhaps such figures might have included Robert Flello, a Catholic opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage who was deselected as a Lib Dem candidate after just 36 hours because of his “values”. He is now suing the party for alleged religious discrimination.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats had flaunted their social liberalism ahead of the election, as if it was a virtue, but there is little evidence that it won them many votes. Indeed, it appears that such ideas were actually unpopular with the electorate. All parties, including the new Conservative Government with its comfortable majority, should resist any movement towards ideological extremes.
If the 1967 Abortion Act is going to be scrutinised in this Parliament, for instance, perhaps the former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt might help to set the agenda, with the upper time limit cut to the 12 weeks he has proposed. He was severely criticised for this suggestion, but it would bring the UK into line with a number of other European countries.
Now might be the time for Catholics and other Christians to be emboldened about their faith and how they express it in public life, given that the parties with policies so hostile to their beliefs have been so radically diminished.
Yet Christians must also remain cautious. As Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth has pointed out, our problem goes much deeper than party politics. In his remarks on the elections, he seemed to imply that the “false anthropologies” of our time can be found in modern Conservatism as well as elsewhere.
“I think the task remains in combatting false anthropologies that come from a lack of faith, a lack of a relationship with God in a person’s life, which lead to distorted anthropologies,” the bishop said. “That is the key issue for the Church, otherwise you just have Nietzschean nihilism and that lack of hope that comes from a lack of faith.”
It was such a lack of hope and faith that might have cost the left-wing parties the religious vote at the election. Cardinal Nichols is right to imply, even if inadvertently, that they only have themselves to blame.