Update: Answers from candidates have been coming in. See this post for their responses.
What are the questions that you would ask a candidate for parliament in 2017?
Here are the 15 questions I asked – and my reasons for asking them.
1. Do you believe that reducing the national debt should be a priority for the government? If so, do you believe that should be done primarily by increasing taxes or cutting spending?
The economy is always a major issue, so it is appropriate to ask a question. I chose to ask this one because debt is a serious matter – but one that is usually forgotten.
I would add that I think it is significant that Jesus used debt as a picture for sin, both in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:12) and in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 23:18-25). The reason he did so was surely that it was understood that debt was something that one could not run away from for ever; it had to be repaid.
2.Do you think there should be another referendum on EU membership within the next 5 years?
This election was basically called because of the result of the referendum on EU membership, and hence has been referred to as the Brexit election. So Brexit is clearly a major issue.
Whether it is an important one or not is debatable, but I do think that MPs have a responsibility to accept the results of referenda unless there is a very good reason for not doing so.
3. Do you think there should be another referendum on Scottish independence within the next 5 years?
This is one of the main issues in Scotland. Again, one can debate whether this really matters, but I do find it strange that some politicians called for another independence referendum after the Brexit vote when they had given no hint before the Brexit vote that they might do so.
4. Broadly speaking, do you think that immigration is good for our country and its economy?
As with the economy, Brexit, and Scottish independence, this is one of the main issues of the day, so it seems appropriate to ask. For what it’s worth, this short video gives some idea of my views on the matter.
5. Are you concerned that laws to combat ‘extremism’ could suppress the right to free speech?
I think that free speech is always an important issue. For Christians, it is of great practical relevance, because the good news of Jesus Christ is something that is communicated, and the communication of it requires an element of freedom of speech. Governments and politicians in many countries find the Christian message, or aspects of it, unpalatable, and would have no qualms about passing laws to muzzle Christians who say things they find unacceptable.
In addition, I think that the whole concept of “extremism” is so ill-defined as to make it unhelpful. We already have laws forbidding incitement to commit a criminal offence.
6. Do you think public office holders should be forced to swear a ‘British values’ oath?
Such legislation would basically amount to the state demanding that citizens should be barred from public life unless they hold to the values of the current political leadership of the country.
Sajid Javid’s proposal for a British values oath mentioned three particular values: democracy, equality and freedom of speech. While I am delighted that freedom of speech is in there, I don’t see any reason why people in public life have to believe in democracy. In the last couple of centuries, democracy has come to be seen as the best form of government – but before the 18th century, the best form of government was a matter of debate and discussion. It is not a British value; it is simply the current orthodoxy.
7. Do you think public office holders should be forced to swear an oath to uphold equality?
This is essentially the same as the last question. Like ‘British values’ and ‘extremism’, equality is a rather ill-defined concept – and, even more than democracy, something that for much of Britain’s history would not have been regarded as a basic British value.
8. Do you support the campaign by Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) for LGBT education to be a statutory requirement in schools?
Last year, the Public Petitions Committee at Holyrood decided to reject a call from Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) for LGBT education to be a statutory requirement in schools. The Convener of the Committee said: “I don’t think we can ask the government to do what the petitioner asked, which was to set something in the curriculum, and force local authorities to teach it in the way they were asking.”
The basic issue is the extent to which the curriculum in schools is set by the government. However, this also raises the question of the extent to which the state uses the education system as a tool for indoctrination. I think that the Committee were clearly correct, but apparently TIE has not given up.
9. Do you believe that action on climate change is urgent and vitally important?
This is one of the big issues of the day, so an obvious thing to ask. Most politicians would give a simple “yes” to this question, but I thought I would ask just to see if any of the candidates disagreed with the current consensus.
10. Do you think the ‘Named Person’ scheme should be dropped entirely?
In my opinion, the “Named Person” scheme is an unacceptable intrusion by the state into family life, and a major blot on the record of the current administration in Holyrood. While this is an election for the Westminster Parliament, the principles are important, so I asked the question.
11. Do you believe that parents should be criminalised for smacking their children?
Currently a subject of a lot of debate. Reasonable physical punishment does not constitute assault, and parents can already be prosecuted for assaulting their children. Again, it seems to me that this is an unacceptable intrusion by the state into family life.
12. Do you believe the law on abortion is too lax, too restrictive or about right?
No basic change takes place in a child the moment it is born. If it is entitled to protection after birth and it is a criminal offense to kill it, I cannot see why this is not also the case before birth.
13. Do you think Donald Trump was right to attack a Syrian air base on 7th April this year?
I think that this is a very serious matter. Philip Giraldi has argued, quite convincingly in my opinion, that Trump’s action was a violation of American and International law – and yet many British politicians have supported it.
14. Do you believe that the UK armed services should be part of the American- led International Coalition in Syria?
The Coalition is responsible for bombing raids that have killed hundreds of civilians, as well as an attack on Syrian government forces that were engaged in a battle with ISIS. Why are our armed forces there?
15. Do you think that the UK should be selling arms to Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia’s record is appalling both in its domestic and in its foreign policy. See my post on the subject last year.
Furthermore, we now know (thanks to Wikileaks) that the American government knew back in 2014 that Saudi Arabia was providing support to ISIS and other Jihadist groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government. Part of an email between Hilary Clinton and John Podesta that year reads “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”
And of course there is the case of the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen two years ago, and have repeatedly bombed civilian targets, and, in an effort to starve anti-government forces into submission, have enforced a food blockade that has caused massive malnutrition. These things strike me as utterly reprehensible.
And yet the British government continues to support the Saudi government and sell it arms.
Edit: I’ve just seen this in the Guardian:
“An investigation into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups that was authorised by David Cameron may never be published, the Home Office has admitted. The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis.”