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Let's bring truth and realism back following election, writes Bishop Nick

First published on: 8th July 2024

Following last week's General Election, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, has written about the importance of realism and truth returning to our national culture.

Bishop Nick calls on the govenrment to be realistic about the challenges and opportunities ahead, and on us all to reshape our political discourse to be honest about reality.

His full reflection can be read below.

"The speculation is now over. The decision is in. The deal is done. The country has voted. And we now embark on a new phase of our national life, but this will have implications for the rest of the world, too.

"Millions of people have voted for change. The polls indicated for a long time that the people of the UK were disillusioned with politics and politicians. Many are fed up with the damage done to our culture and democratic processes over the last couple of decades. They are fed up with unaccountable lying – and the refusal to admit it. They are tired of corruption and the decline in our public services, of politicians making money out of gambling and extra jobs. The cost of living crisis and the state of our roads. It has not exactly been an era of optimism as political promises have been disappointed or dropped. And, despite the voting numbers last week, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of euphoria around.

"So, what is there to say?

"Well, the first thing all of us should learn from the dawn of a new government is that the electorate needs to be realistic. It is staggering how many people seem to believe promises made by campaigning candidates for power when the means of delivering them cannot be guaranteed - or the means secured. The money has to be there, somewhere, if change is to be resourced. And, as there appears to be no magic money tree for any party in government, it all comes down to redistribution of what is already there. The redistribution of zero is … er … zero. Changing where money goes, establishing new (or different) priorities, allocating resources according to different values – all of these will now come at cost. Saying yes to one commitment means saying no to a pile of others.

"So, my first reflection is about government being honest with the electorate, telling the truth, helping people understand the trade-offs and compromises that reality always imposes. After some years in which truth often fell under the wheels of unaccountable expediency, now is the time to change not just priorities, but culture. Truth matters. The people are adult enough to hear and understand the truth that draws all of us into a shared responsibility for changing our society for the better. It is a cultural task not only for government, but for all citizens joining in a common commitment to a realistic vision.

"Now, I understand that this might sound a bit downbeat. I am pleased that the country has an opportunity for change and a reappraisal of what sort of society and economy we want to create. But, realism dictates also that we must take a long-term view of change. Not everything can be done this afternoon or this year. Changing a society takes years. But, having identified a vision for what sort of society we want to live in, we then need honesty as we set a direction for the future.

"This will mean government being open about both challenges and opportunities, the costs and benefits. It will mean being truthful about the consequences of previous decisions such as Brexit, the impact on child poverty of the two-child benefit limit, the reduction of Overseas Development Aid to 0.5% of GDP and its deployment within the UK rather than abroad.

"The coming years will tell us who we are, how we are, and what we think really matters. A budget can be called ‘values by numbers’. It is time for change – but the most urgent change is in re-shaping the public discourse, honesty about reality, truthfulness as a fundamental virtue of democratic culture."

Rt Revd Nicholas Baines
Bishop of Leeds

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