Pendulum swing | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

Pendulum swing


WORLD Radio - Pendulum swing

Last week voters in the U.K. signaled they were ready for a change

British Prime Minister Keir Starmer after his first cabinet meeting as Prime Minister in London, Saturday Associated Press/Photo by Claudia Greco/Pool

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 9th of July, 2024.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up, the UK general election.

Labor won a landslide victory routing the Conservatives and ending the party’s nearly decade and a half hold on power.

This is happening at the same time populists are gaining momentum across Europe.

Joining us now to talk about it is John Stevens. He’s the national director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches…an association of 600 churches across the UK.

REICHARD: John, good morning.

JOHN STEVENS: Good morning, Mary. Great to be with you.

REICHARD: Well, so glad you’re here. Over the last few months Europe’s been moving to the right in national and European elections. Yet during last week’s elections in the UK, the voters went the opposite direction—a clear move to the left. What do you think this means?

STEVENS: I think the bigger picture is that across Europe people are voting against incumbent governments. So it's not as simple as people moving to the right and people reacting against whoever has been in government. So in many ways, I think it is a rejection of the record of the previous government and people's discontent with the way that living standards have remained static or fallen behind and frustration that many of the issues have not been addressed by the previous government. So I think that's the bigger picture, although it does mark a shift to the left, but in British politics the two major parties are slightly to the left of center and the right of center, so it doesn't reflect probably a fundamental shift. The policy positions of the two main parties are actually incredibly similar.

REICHARD: You know, polling shows more than 6 in 10 British voters regret Brexit. With a Labour government now in place, John, how do you think a relationship with Europe could go forward?

STEVENS: Well, I think you're right. And one of the challenges is that Brexit hasn't delivered what lots of people hoped it would deliver, which is why many have lost confidence in it. I think the Labour government will seek to negotiate a closer relationship with the European Union, particularly on trade, which may mean accepting more European Union regulations and rules. But there is a desire, I think, on their part to have a closer relationship. I don't think that there is any prospect of rejoining the European Union or the single market or the customs union. It's clear the British people by a small majority rejected that. No party is putting that forward as its policy proposal.

REICHARD: Let’s talk about voter turnout in this last election. It was a record low, just under 60 percent, I read and that led some to say that the Labour party didn't win so much as the Tories just didn’t show up to vote. How do you explain the lack of turnout?

STEVENS: I think that's true, but in lots of elections there are a large number of people who are turned off by politics who don't vote. Roughly speaking, the voter share across all the parties in the UK, and unlike America, we've probably got five major parties, three of which are on the left, two of which are on the right. Roughly speaking, the percentage of votes were about 60 percent in favor of those on the left, 40 percent of those in favor on the right. And that's actually been a trend ever since 1992. So the split of votes is pretty much the same as it's been. And Sir Keir Starmer, the prime minister, admitted that in his first speech as prime minister, in which he recognized he has a need to win over the support of the people. That they've given him government, but they haven't yet given him their enthusiastic support.

REICHARD: Well, talking about Keir Starmer, the UK’s new prime minister, other than trying to win people over to his side, what big challenges will he face right away?

STEVENS: I think the challenges he faces are the challenges that were there beforehand: the problem of very high immigration into the UK, which has caused frustrations with large parts of the electorate, the fact that living standards have fallen and there isn't any amount of public money available, so it's difficult to see how they will have more to spend. Taxes are already at a kind of an all time high. So I think the real challenge will be growing the economy to be able to produce some more resources, increasing house building, there are lots of frustrations with younger people about the inability to be able to buy houses because they're so expensive, because they haven't been built, and the challenge of the cultural pressures of something like 600,000 immigrants into the UK every year with a population of about 64 million. And I think there is a lot of voter frustration at the consequences of that on public services and on the changing nature of the culture.

REICHARD: Well you’ve just come through an election…and here in the US we are slogging through a very long presidential campaign season. As a church leader, how have you counseled pastors to shepherd their flocks well during such polarizing political conflicts?

STEVENS: Well, it's probably slightly more complicated in the UK because we don't have a binary choice between two specific individuals. But we've wanted to encourage our churches and our pastors to recognise that in good conscience, Bible-believing Christians will reach different conclusions as to who they vote for. And to remind people that no matter what the outcome of the election, Jesus is Lord, he's the one who's reigning and ruling. We've encouraged people to think about what the purpose of government is. I think the Bible teaches that the purpose of government is relatively limited. It's to restrain evil, it's to prevent civil war, it's to enable us to live lives in quietness and freedom. Sometimes we can have far too much expectation of what government will accomplish. The kingdom of God doesn't come through politics, it comes through the growth and the witness of the church. So we've encouraged people to keep their focus on the Lord Jesus, keep their focus on evangelism and the work of local churches, and to seek to maintain the unity of the church because in most congregations people will have a diversity of political views.

REICHARD: John Stevens is national director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. Thanks so much.

STEVENS: Thank you so much, Mary.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


Please wait while we load the latest comments...