The result of the British General Election is clear enough, even if its consequences for parliamentary government are not. Mrs May has led her party to the verge of defeat, while Mr Corbyn has shown himself to be civilised, tough and successful. Here in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has been shown that most Scots do not want independence, allowing Ruth Davidson a niche as the representative of ordinary Scots, while Kezia Dugdale has benefitted from the policies of a UK leader she doesn’t rate. The personal and political future of some of the most powerful people in the land has been altered, without violence, by means of public discussion and the vote. This means of asserting the popular will has doubtless many defects, some of which may become obvious as the struggles of a hung parliament are played out, but it remains something to be noted and celebrated.
Probably a largely discredited Tory party will continue to rule with the assistance of the Democratic Unionists of Northern Ireland, which will mean a continuation of unrestrained capitalism as our favoured economic model, with all its imposed restraints on the welfare of poorer people and public services. Indeed, even if Mr Corbyn were to succeed in cobbling together a ruling coalition, he would almost certainly have to forego some of the boldest polices he has proposed for social justice.
All of which means that those who suffer from unrestricted market forces, the poor, the sick, the people dependent on benefits, the people who need or work for public services, the workers whose skills are exploited by huge multinational companies, will continue to suffer; those nations and peoples damaged by our support of international capitalist trade will continue to be damaged; and those who long for a more just and peaceful society will continue to be disappointed. No sense of appreciation for social democracy should be allowed to obscure the harm that will continue to be done.
In other words, not much is settled by this election result. Mr Corbyn in a speech yesterday used the words of Shelley, “ye are many, they are few” as encouragement to his supporters. The trouble is that as long as capitalism can satisfy the minimum demands of two thirds of the electorate, Shelley’s arithmetic will not add up to change. In a few weeks the hope of justice will be back in the hands of the saints who battle for it through community groups, charities, and trade unions as well as those who try to provide some small measure of it through their work in public service and social enteprise.
Politicians who want social justice and are not content with the result of this election, must not in their disappointment forget the victims of capitalism nor the saints who work for them. They should be involved in these basic struggles, helping them win their battles and trying to build a more inclusive movement for social justice. There are some signs that the Corbynistas promote this solidarity, while misdirecting it into sectarian political identities. The strength of grass-roots activists is that they are not saddled with existing political identities and can form genuinely popular institutions that will refresh our politics if they are encouraged to do so. The struggle continues.
And what about the Church? The truth is that for years now my church’s General Assembly has promoted social justice, but the response of its members has been partial: on issues of world poverty for example, they have maintained support for Christian Aid, which makes a huge contribution to the neediest people in the world; but in respect of domestic politics have probably not much altered their class bias. My guess is that church people round Scotland will have allied themselves more with their communities of residence than with each other in this election. But just perhaps, their common faith and belonging holds out the possibility of mutual political education, if any activists dare to enable it. The church is not and is not meant to be the kingdom of God; but it is meant, in word and action, to point to it.