An Epistle To Our Elected Leaders
Dear DUP and Sinn Fein,
My friend Stocki has already sent you, and our other political leaders, an open letter, and social media suggests that many agree with what he says (including myself), but I was already writing this when I saw his, and whilst it covers similar ground, and fewer may read this, I want to add my tuppence (especially since it takes a lot to get me writing these days!)
And at the heart of it is this, I recognise that you both have a legitimate electoral mandate. The big question is what you do with it. Both of you have made great play of the fact that people voted for you on the basis of your statements before the election. Now I have no desire to get into the legitimacy of those positions. You campaigned on them and you each were elected on those platforms. Both of you grew your vote in a highly polarised election, and whilst the DUP lost a significant number of seats they are still the largest party.
So you both have a mandate.
And so far in the negotiations you both seem to have stuck to what you promised in the election (I don’t k now what went on in the discussions – I am just going by what is in the public domain).
But therein lies the problem. For both to stick doggedly to what was said in the election campaign then you were setting these negotiations up to fail.
There has been a lot said about Theresa May “not declaring her hand” in the game of Brexit poker that began in earnest today, and whilst I personally wouldn’t like to bet the house (or country) on her ability to play that particular game, at least she isn’t going into those negotiations having made promises she cannot possibly keep. (actually… before I go any further can I please ask that we top treating politics as a game, be it Brexit poker or the Stormont Blame Game… Politics is much too serious…)
Now I am sure that there are some in both your party machines who are doing the number crunching and suggesting that if another election were called that each of you might do even better, especially if you play the fear/victim cards well… Other cynics have even suggested that it might suit both of you (despite public protestations) if everything went to a period of direct rule for a time – then we could all blame big bad Westminster for all our ills.
But whilst political calculations are going on, government is not… meanwhile, in the absence of a home-grown budget, boards of governors in schools are having to make drastic cuts, waiting lists in hospitals are going up, the voluntary and community sector is going to the wall and vital infrastructure decisions are put on hold… whilst we still burn money wholesale in RHI-funded furnaces across the country.
Much was said by Eamonn Mallie and others before the election about the exercise of grace. It isn’t a common characteristic in political dialogue here, which seems to primarily operate on the reversal of Von Clausewitz’ famous axiom that “War is politics by other means.” However, we did get a glimpse of grace in a simple handshake last week at Martin McGuinness’ funeral and indeed the preceding applause and Arlene Foster’s very presence there. But sadly things returned rapidly to business as usual… or should that be “no business as usual…”
But let me introduce another alien word into the political pond… Humility.
I’m not a politician. And actually I take my hat off to those who serve in the political maelstrom that is Northern Ireland. But it is about service, and service demands a certain level of humility.
But as I say, I am not a politician, I am a Methodist minister, and I ultimately look for my example to Jesus, like many of the politicians I know… Paul, in writing to the church in Philippi says
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who (despite) being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (or as an older translation puts it “as something to be grasped”); rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…
Now, that passage goes on to point out that Jesus ended up being crucified because of that (before ultimately being exalted by God)… I am not suggesting that any individual politician should sacrifice themselves or their political careers for the common good…
But I am unapologetically advocating the mindset of humble, sacrificial service…
Frequently when Methodist ministers are “preached in” to their congregations, those listening are told “this minister will be your servant, but you are not their master”… and perhaps we need to understand that distinction when it comes to political leadership. We elect those we vote for not simply to do our bidding (even though social media is full of those who tell you that we are paying your wages) but to lead… not as macho “my way or the highway” type leaders (and it is not just men who sometimes try to lead like that – see the current resident of no10 Downing Street for example), but to act as servant leaders, seeking to serve the common good…
Or, paraphrasing Paul’s words to the Philippians, not only looking after the interests of your own, but each of you looking to the interests of all…
Yours in humility and hope