‘We don’t do God’ Alistair Campbell famously quipped about New Labour’s approach to anything religious. It was a very pragmatic stance, given that Britain is largely a secular society these days, albeit with a still established Church of England. And it also helped keep Tony Blair’s somewhat messianic Christian views in check.
But what does the liberal-minded member of society who wishes to respect both believers and non-believers do about Christmas? There are some who don’t even want the term ‘Christmas’ to be used. I disagree – to me it’s a perfectly legitimate term, whether you choose to celebrate Christmas in a Christian or non-Christian way. But it does raise some interesting ethical questions.
For many who don’t regularly go to church but who find comfort in attending a church service at Christmas, what does ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’ actually mean? Is it just a ritualistic phrase that gets forgotten the moment one comes out of the church? Or does it indicate a willingness to be a bit more charitable towards fellow human beings?
I found myself wondering this in the light of the particularly vitriolic things people have been saying about the Liberal Democrats over recent weeks. There is a real anger in some of the comments that have been made – some of them by very eloquent and intelligent people – that it has made me wonder whether we have missed something.
I do think that the Lib Dems have picked up a lot of support over the years because we haven’t been in power nationally, so have never had to make ourselves unpopular with difficult decisions. Now we’re getting our hands dirty, people find it easy to see us as no different to the other two parties, and having hoped we were different, they get extra angry.
In addition, we have come to government at a time when some really heart-breaking decisions are necessary. To carry these through, often in the face of some serious personal abuse, requires a resilience that sometimes makes people think we don’t care. When administering some horrible medicine to a child, we accept the old adage ‘you have to be cruel to be kind’, yet we accept it less when applied to the national economy. The result is that those associated with power become the scapegoats.
Yet Liberal Democrats haven’t changed just because the party is in a coalition government. We still believe in promoting a fairer society, however many difficult cuts in finances we have had to sign up to. We still believe in looking after the weakest, in promoting an absence of discrimination, and working towards forms of governance that are rooted in cooperation rather than benign despotism.
As one of the many members of society who is uncomfortable with traditional religion but who thinks deeply about various aspects of spirituality, I find myself hoping people will invoke the spirit of Christmas to become a little more charitable towards a form of government that might yet prove to be the best thing for this country, especially at this time. I wish the coalition we Liberals have waited so long for had happened at a less daunting time economically, but you have to deal with what is, not what you’d have liked best.
That’s why I ask people who have been well disposed towards the Lib Dems, but who find their faith in us seriously challenged at present, to offer us a little goodwill this Christmas. It’s a steep learning curve for all of us, with some nasty decisions along the way. It may all go haywire, but even if it does, I hope people will recognise the good intent behind the political machinations. And if those with doubts are willing to hang with us for a while, there may be something at the end of the rainbow that’s worth a lot more than a fictitious pot of gold.
Do have a very happy Christmas, however you choose to celebrate it!