Tuesday, February 05, 2013
What is the key issue?
It is remarkable how different the key issue can be to different people at any time.
For many people at the moment the most important issue is the state of the economy, and particularly prospects for jobs and growth. Many individuals are particularly worried about the cost of living and struggling to make sure their income keeps pace with it.
Here in West Cumbria there is a particular aspect of this: with more than10,000 people employed at Sellafield and a local economy dependent on the nuclear industry, there is a major focus on what the future of the industry will be following last week's vote by Cumbria County council not to proceeed with the MRWS process to look for a longer term solution for nuclear waste.
Of course, we will still have to agree on how to deal with nuclear waste even if there are no new nuclear power stations. That was illustrated this week when Sellafield got a kicking in the media and from the House of Commons public accounts committee (particularly chairman Margaret Hodge) over cost over-runs at the site.
I personally believe that there is a lot of truth in the defence given by the NDA - that many of these over-runs and problems are due to mistakes made forty or fifty years ago in failing to keep adequate records or think through the long term consequences of decisions. But we need to make sure that those lessons are learned and continue to be applied today, which is why even as a strong supporter of the nuclear industry I recognise that we need to maintain a high level of public scrutiny of the industry.
For some others the key issue is always Europe. Britain's relationship with the rest of Europe has caused problems down the centuries and no sensible person should deny that it is an important one. Equally, though this is an important issue, it important for political parties to avoid getting so absorbed in it that we take our eye off the main ball - which is the need to get the economy growing.
At the moment the "Westminster village" appears to be paying a lot of attention to the same sex marriage issue. Again, this is very important to some people.
I think Tim Montgomerie, a former director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, called this one accurately when he argued on Conservative Home that the battle to fight on this issue is not same-sex marriage, which is inevitable, but to preserve religious freedom.
When most people in this country under the age of about fifty see churches or those of strong religious beliefs pursuing an agenda which looks to them like bashing gay people - however unfair that may sometimes be - it makes religion appear to them like a weird hangover from long past centuries.
We need to encourage more tolerance of diversity, not less. And that includes respect for a diversity of views about religion, and a diversity of faiths.
Respect for freedom of speech and freedom of religion are no longer secure in this country. The churches and outspoken atheists have come together in the recent past to fight against oppressive legislation such as section four, in the "Feel free to insult me" campaign.
That kind of bridge-building needs to be done again if this is to remain a free country. And keeping Britain a free country is perhaps the most important challenge of all.