Apart from developing a detailed account of the full range of legislation and policies that apply to the public-legal domain of any nation’s governance, a political party worthy of the name should have a coherent and transparent statement to set forth to voters that outlines its own view of itself.
A political party should seek to make its policies known as the expression of its own identity as a party. Its policies will, in some way or another, presuppose this self-definition. To set forth a political programme is to set forth a view of the peculiar political contribution that is being setting forth. It must have a well-developed rationale for such a political option. It must also give some account about the state of affairs that has prevailed hitherto, and why such an option was not made available previously. Such a self-definition must not only be part of a party’s constitution. It must be a living and credible explanation in the political lives of citizens, of the members who have joined its ranks. It’s constitution will not only tell those it is addressing – its own members as much as those belonging to other political persuasions – how it sees itself and how its proposes to make its own contribution. It will point the way to a programme of political action. It will be one political party among all the other extant political options, and its programme will outline much more than its approach to attracting votes for its candidates.
From what we have said thus far, we have implied that the promotions of a viable Christian political option will indeed need a well thought-out party organisation. A party’s constitution should give clear and unambiguous expression to the principles that govern it as an electorally-based association of citizens. And the task citizenship is much wider than merely registering a vote at election time. So this also indicates an important avenue that needs to be thoroughly explored by those seeking to deepen their appreciation of what this Christian political option might involve.
A political initiative of this sort cannot afford to leave the definition of “political party” to the whims of a parliamentary leader who is only inclined to discuss such “theoretical” matters after his (or her) own election to parliament has been confirmed and his or her subsequent leadership of a group of parliamentarians has been established. That would be to capitulate to demagoguery, to those who have the power, via public relations or other means, to massage the credentials of the proposed person who put him or herself forward for public consumption and acclaim.
Such a politician takes the path of “keeping his/her cards close to his chest” as the furtive search goes on to find a political party that will accommodate his or her aspirations. This is not the approach to be taken by a Christian political option as Nurturing Justice understands it. Nevertheless, a Christian political option will not run blind to the political fact that positive, fair and just outcomes for the “common good” can come about as the political result of the intense compromises that time and again have arisen from efforts to get in behind such a leader and let the party develop from there. But a Christian political option will have to take another route to party formation.
Any party’s constitution should be transparently clear about the role of the elected member in relation to party policy, the way in which the parliamentary representation of party members has a reciprocal impact upon the party’s grass-roots deliberation. It will also have to come to terms with the probability that any elected member of the party is going to have to represent an electorate in which many voters have cast their ballots for other candidates. In that sense a political party constitution needs to work out how its own political vision is to be developed to have an impact upon the political framework in which political life is conventionally understood. The constitution will not only have to spell out what membership within its own ranks means for the individual rank-and-file member, it will also have to address questions related to how party membership involves a genuine political and civic respect for members of other parties, and for citizens who may even wish to steer clear of politics altogether. Implicit in the party’s principles and any electoral platform that may result will be a view of how its members relate to voters of other political persuasions. It will involve an endorsement of opened up political debate as a “good” of political life that needs to be preserved from all subtle schemes that would muzzle or sideline dissent and non-conformity. Its principles will have to clearly articulate a view of how it views the accountability of elected members to all of their electors. This will also mean giving expression to the party’s view of how parliamentary representation needs to be proportional across the entire polity so that public and lawful room is made for all citizens to give voice to their political beliefs, whether they are able to align with one of the extant political parties or not.
Now in addition to all that those seeking a Christian political option will have to confront in terms of legislation and policy formation, there is also the serious state of political party confusion in our polity. When in conversation with neighbours, one will often hear that this confusion is simply inevitable; it will be said “but that is just politics!” The confusion however is not an accident; it is indicative of a set of problems that may seem to defy resolution not least because of the entrenched and dogmatic mentality that appeals to the “but that is just what politics is!” mantra.
Whether those advocating a Christian political option realise it or not, they are also claiming, via their search for alternative political path, to be setting forth a remedy to this anarchic and unprincipled manner of populist politics that continues to eat away at the integrity of our system of public governance. It may take decades for it to be adequately resolved. And so, in recognising that, we also face the likelihood that some will turn away from such discussion because they will conclude that such political discussion is only talk and can have no immediate pay-off.
So, even at this point there is much re-thinking that is required of us. We will continue to do so in our next piece. We do not apologise for the length of this exploration. The issues are complex. We are not going to make progress toward developing a Christian political option by avoiding these necessary preliminaries.