Returning from the Caribbean cool of the West Indies to the !lusting heat of a British etc, Liam can be adaunting experts:nee. You may wonder what this has to do with the "Sign of Peace" which is or is suppo,sed to he — exchanged as between attendants at Mass.
In Port of Spain's grimy "downtown" area the magnificent Cathedral has a daily evening Mass: and those on their ryav from ork take part in
[nosing espreasion of the I. ternal Sacrifice relies, ed, paricutarly in the genuinely friendly way, so noticeable in Trinidad, that they exchange this sign of Christian brotherhood. (In a well-to-do -uptown" suburb, by contrast. the parish priest, a charming reactionary , preferred to harangue his flock ill the style or So years ago, inevitably resulting in a lifeless and miserable looking congregation.. Very sad.) In busting Britain, Ito* are we reacting to the kind of issues discussed by candidates on page 3, and above by Tim Sheehey? By an attempt at brotherhood, or by suffocating boredom at the haranguings of our would-be representatives'?
It depends, very obviously, on the individual candidates: and these mortals have never merited (or invited) such sharp scrutiny as in so "phoney" a campaign as this: "phoney" because, as not only P. owellites know, it was called to avoid a solution w our "crisis" which will be implemented in one form or another as S0011 as the election is over, with long term issues neglected.
It is a Prime Minister's prerogative, however, to call an election at whatever moment suits him best. And it would be temerarious to attack MT. Heath it/0 Mel) for exercising this particular prerogative when, after trailing behind for SO long ill the opinion polls, as
prices soared, he suddenly saw a light at the end of the (miners') tunnel.
Thus, prospective M.P.'s should surely be attracting most or our attention, rather than gladiatorial combats on the media. For we will need all the really good M.P.s we can get in a Parliament that will, almost certainly, be less representative of the electorate as a whole than any Parliament in memory.
The reason for this is a factor not often pondered. namely the likely quantities of people voting for any given party in terms of percentages of all potential voters. Say, for example, thin Labour and Conservative capture somewhere in the region of 34 per cent each of this total adult population, the liberals 12 per cent, and nonvoters and others the rest.
One of two of the major parties will then form a Government which represents little more than a third of the people; the third major party, with. say, five million votes behind it, will only get about 20 Commons seats, instead of the 90 it might get if the proportion of its popular support were commensurate with its Parliamentary St rength.
But short or Electoral Reform (through some sort of proporti(lnal representation) many millions of voters itre doomed to he forever unrepresented in Parliament, A phoney campaign will thus — whatever the "result" -produce a phoney outcome.
Fortunately there arc plenty of far-from-phoney candidates about. The counter-devisive Jeremy Thorpe. the conciliatory Willie Whitelaw, the conscientous Keith Joseph, arc good, if almost random, examples. But no doubt every voter can find one for himself in his own constituency. Those nearest to me. in London, are fighting hard in tire changed boundaries of the Chelsea and Kensington constituencies. There could he surprises. In the country, our part of the Cotswolds is not likely to lose the long-standing (Tory) services of the popular Nick A particularly tense struggle is going on. however, in another part of Gloucestershire, namely Bristol South-East. I spent some Lime there earlier in the week to do some investigations on a strictly non-party basis, however tempting it would have been to get drawn into the latter, For extensive boundary changes have brought rich Tory pastureland into a previously Labour area, and there is likely. to be an unusually large element of vote-splitting.
The former member, fighting hard to retail his seat, turned down offers of a safe haven elsewhere. Unlike the Prime Minister (for whom special allowances must no doubt be made) he decided to stand and fight for and with his old friends. And, I found, they turned to he true friends indeed, particularly the many Catholics I managed to talk to. For the candidate in question is Tony Benn, well known to be sympathetic to Catholics in general and causes they espouse. (Mr. Benn, as may be remembered, has written for the Catholic Herald on various occasions.) The reason for such sympathy — rapidly turning to empathy as the doorsteps flash by — is not, of course, because of any special commitment by a nonCatholic to Catholic causes, but
because as I soon discovered in Bristol South-East — Tony Benn is an almost superhumanly good listener, invariably putting his attention to practical use. Rare in a politician, you may comment? Rare in anyone. I would opine?
Intrigued by the remark of one senior south-east Bristol parish priest that "it would be a tragedy if Mr. Berm does not get re-elected," I inode a special effort to see the candidate myself, if even for a fleeting moment. He amazed me by his philosophic approach to this strange general election by saying that the fate of individual candidates was unimportant provided the ideas and ideals that had been worked toward for so loop went on, I naturally did not take this to imply that a man who had spent nearly a quarter or a century in Parliament was indifferent as to whether or not he would be
returned again this time. No politician worth his salt could possibly be indifferent to such an extent. But I was. I admit, pleased to hear so non-phoney a note being struck, especially in an almost throw-away, rather than carefully contrived, phrase.
In search of personal commitment, in fact (rather than mere party allegiance), many people may well be asking if there is a "Tony Berm" in their own constituencies. Or is such a question too un-phoney and open-minded to look for in the artificial heat of the hustings, and when so many disenchanted (and almost disenfranchised) citizens are resigning themselves to yet another election result dictated by big
money and smooth organisation? One must hope that sociallyminded Christians a ill not succumb to such disenchantment and waste the golden opportunity that is now theirs.