Page 4, 22nd February 1974

22nd February 1974
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Page 4, 22nd February 1974 — Let's raise the level of debate in this bitter election
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Let's raise the level of debate in this bitter election

by TIM SHEEHEY

Whatever the politicians say, a General Election should not be fought simply on one or two issues. The Government we are about to elect will 'make important decisions both nationally and internationally which will affect our lives in many ways. It is therefore important to consider all the issues before going to the

polls.

How do we assess the importance of issues such as union militancy, the fight against inflation, disparities in wealth, overseas aid, abortion law reform, racism in our immigration legislation and foreign policies, arms expenditure, Catholic education and education. in general?

How do we then relate our assessment of these issues to the promises made by the political parties'? Basically each party, I hrough its maniresto, promises us what we want: greater personal wealth, a more equitable society.. firm an d fair government, a significant role in the world. The promises are not %era atilferent but the means of

ing them are.

A Conservative Government v ill eMphasise economic stability through a statutory incomes policy, restriction of Government expenditure, emphasis on the role of the individual and private is aterprise.

A lathour Government will emphasise the needs of the commands rather than the individual through increased Government spending (and therefore increased taxation), greater redistribution of wealth, conciliation in industrial relations, rent Lind price controls, and it The Liberal Party, unallied to major interest groups, and lacking a rigid ideology, feel they can confront Britain's problems in a less partisan and more free thinking way.

All citiaens have both the right and the duty to vote. But is there a Christian way of voting? I am afraid not. Being Christian does not provide a ready-made iiiisner to how you should vote on February 28. Christianity does not have a political progrannne or ideology. but it does give us a way of looking at politics.

Christianity commands a particular commitment to the poor Ind the underprivileged in our society and abroad. It calls for t he ereat ion of it genuine human Itt 50 that Men May live liwtheis.

As all three parties agree, it is I scandal that in a country as wealthy as Britain there are still so ntanY people living in poverty. Although people in Britain ale not poor in the same way that people in say. India are, nevertheless there are considerable hardships for the poorer sections of our community trying to live a decent and dignified life in a society geared essentially to the rich.

The next Government must ensure that wealth is more evenly' distributed, that everyone has the basic necessities of life and that opportunities for selffulfilment in education, work and leisure are made available to all members of our community.

Many find it difficult to believe that there are some 10.5 million people in this country who live on, below or marginally above tia. la-cad lie1, is essential that these people are helped in the most direct and least condescending way. For this reason F would question the idea of means tested benefits.

Not only do such benefits tend to make people feel they are living on charity, they are also very inefficient — only some 50 per cent of those eligib 1 e for family income supplements actually claim their rights.

Again one of the greatest scandals in this country is the housing situation. There are some 1.2 million homes in this country which are judged by Government standards as unfit for human habitation; of these softie 52 per cent are in the private rented sector.

Nearly 3 million homes are without at least one of the basic amenities such as a bath, inside W.C., hot and cold running water. Housing must he given the greatest priority and the Government should take such powers as are necessary and use those which it already has to ensure that every family in this country. has a decent home.

Growth

All three political parties agree on the need for greater economic growth. But the idea of growth needs re-examining. Do we really need more motorways, cars, ships. washing machines? Do we have any right to use up the world's resources at the rate we do?

Although grossah is essential if the poor are to get richer, it is surely time that we, as a nation, began to ask ourselves what sort of growth we want and for whom.

Growth in the basic necessities is essential but what of the growth based on built-in obsolescence and the creation of artificial demands for bigger, better and newer? Rather than worry about the sterile concept of economic growth we should be seeking to change our political and economic priorities to ensure a more just society.

Britain is a multi-racial society. This fact must not be evaded. Black people are not a —problem" but are citizens permanently rooted in British society. The major problem of race relations in this country is the problem of white racism. Although good race relations must be worked out at local level. Government attitudes and legislation have a critical effect. The 1968/1971 Immigration Act contained certain racialist chartlettristies. Furthermore. the 1971 Act was retrospective and this has caused considerable hardship. Now, however, there is a chance for at new start. Both major parties are committed to a new (feintLion of nationality: it is essential that any such redefinition is not racialist either in conception or administration and, in particular, the position of British passport holders in East Africa is not jeopardised.' Furthermore, immigrants coming to this country must be allowed to bring their families with them and housing must be made available for them. This is particularly important when our economic growth picks up and we need more immigrant workers.

Ireland

The election could not have come at a worse time for the

new Executive of this beleaguered Province. From a Northern Ireland perspective, we must question the commitment of a Government which calls an election at such an Moppet it une moment for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Co-operation has finally been aecured by the British Parliament from both communities for a new power-sharing Government. Although this new Executive is still in its infancy 'and has not yet had sufficient time to prove itself. the election will be seen by the people of Northern Ireland as a vote of confidence in it.

It is essential that the next Government continue the present policy — if possible on a bipartisan basis. The new Executive needs every assistance and it is particularly important that sufficient funds are made available to ensure that it can carry out the massive programme of desperatelyneeded reconstruction.

To ensure the continued sup

port of the Catholic community for the Executive, it is essential. that the commitment to the ending of internment be carried through. Finally, the -new Government must be committed to maintaining the army in Northern Ireland for as long as necessary and at the same time as unobtrusively as possible, The disparities in wealth which exist within our national community are reflected — in a much more acute form -internationally, The gap between rich and poor countries is growing at an ever accelerating rate. Between 1960 and 1970 the rich countries added $70.0 billion to their real incomes.

This sum alone is greater than the total annual incomes of the continents of Asia, Latin America and Africa. We cannot wait until we have solved our own economic problems before we help those in so much greater need than ourselves.

Political decision must be made now to help the poorer nations, tariffs must be reduced on the import or manufactured goods from the developing countries, aid-debts rescheduled and aid increased to at least the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of our Gross National Product. Although Britain may feel herself the poor relation or the EEC, she cannot back out of her commitments to Commonwealth countries.

EEC

Britain's membership of the EEC is On election issue. As such, however, it should not be allowed to revolve simply around whether or not our memhership of the community has or has not been in our own economic interests.

The EEC should also be judged on how the many millions of immigrant workers who help to create the wealth (if the-Community are treated. In most countries they live in the most pitiful conditions with very few legal rights. Britain should he using its influence within the councils of the community to help. rectify this situation.

Then there is the question ol the precarious position of the. ConiIllonwcattll negotiations for entry into the EEC failed to secure any 'bankable assurances' that the Commonwealth sugar quota would not be cut. Negotiations have been proceeding between the Government and the Commonwealth sugar producers who need to increase the price of their sugar because of a massive increase in production costs coupled with the drop in the value of sterling. Britain has argued against such an increase on the grounds that it will upset EEC negotiations presently un der way and has instead offered aid to compensate for the shortfall, The sugar producers want a fair price for their sugar and so rejected the offer of aid, An agreement was reached last week which has gone some way to meet the legitimate demands of the producing countries. If such an agreement had not been reached it had been estimated that at least two Caribbean countries would have run out of foreign exchange by Easter. This problem is going to persist and the Government must agree to pay a just price for Commonwealth sugar and give a firm undertaking that it will put the same effort into safeguarding the interests of the people of the Caribbean as it has done in trying to establish a meaningful regional developMent strategy.

Oil Crisis

Although the energy crisis will do serious damage to our economy here in Europe, it will have much more serious impact on the Third World. It has been estimated that the poor countries will face a five-fold increase in their total import bill.

For India this will mean that she will have to spend an additional $973 million in order to pay for her oil imports. This Figure takes no account of the extra money which will be needed to pay for the increase in ,price (because of the increase in oil prices) of such essential imports as fertilisers, tyres, insecticides and animal feeds. This is an added reason why any pressure for a cut in aid must strongly he opposed.

Arms Race

it is suggested by all three political parties that the fundamental issue confronting the country is the control of inflation. One obvious way of easing inflationary pressures is a cut in our defence expenditure. Between 1967 and 1969 Britain's military expenditure was on average 5.6 per cent of her Gross Domestic Product — which makes our aid budget look feeble indeed. Barbara Ward has recently pointed out how amazing it is that Governments are unwilling to remove one of the root causes of inflation in our present society "the fact that nothing so quickly causes inflation as the production of weapons or war. "The reason is simple. The. process of producing arms creates flows of purchasing power as money is paid out for materials and goes out in salaries, wages, profits, and dividends. But at the other end nothing emerges which all these flows of purchasing power can buy . . . so the money that has been realised by production is not mopped up again by conSUmption.

It storms off after other ;oods, forcing up their prices and putting a steady element of pressure upon the community's financial stability."

Rhodesia

In declaring UDI in 1965, the Rhodesian Government claimed that it had "struck a blow for the preservation of justice, civilisation and Christianity". But what `Christian civilisation' means in Rhodesia today is the preservation of privilege for the few.

It is our responsibility, as British electors, to ensure that any constitutional settlement he negotiated by and acceptable to the people of Rhodesia as a whole. The [971 proposals are not a basis for a settlement since they have been rejected by the

Rhodesian people. •

Therefore sanctions must be maintained and intensified until justice is secured for all, This is particularly important at the momentavhen, due partly to the oil crisis. the Rhodesian economy has never been shakier.

The decline in immigration, which is of crucial importance for the survival of the present regime, has forced the Government to initiate a national campaign to try to attract immigrants to the country. This campaign has been roundly Condeprined by the Catholic bishops of Rhodesia who point out that such a policy will play into the hands of 'those who advocate violence', Though all British political parties are committed to the five principles, a settlement which is unacceptable to the majority must still be guarded against.

These are the issues which Christians should he raising with prospective candidates, at public meetings, in the local press, on the local and national phone-in programmes. Christians throughout the country should be trying to raise the level of the debate in this bitter election. For more information contact: Child Poverty Action Group — I Macklin St., London WC'2, Shelter' — 86 Strand, London WC2; Pax Christi — 5 Caledonian Road,' London NI; World Development' Movement Parnell House, 25, Wilton St., SW I; Catholic Institute; for Internatthrtal Relations, 41 Holland Park, W11; United Nations' Associations — 93 Albert Embank= ment SE!: Catholic Committee for' Racial Justice — 10 Eaton Gate; SW!.




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