Outside In

Home » Politics and Society (Page 2)

Category Archives: Politics and Society

Feminists and working-class boys

If you are a working-class boy, there is every chance that most of the professionals you will come across in your formative years are women. If you are a working-class boy, there is every chance that most of the authority figures you come across in your formative years will be women. If you are a working-class boy, there is every chance that your experience of women/girls during your formative years is that they are generally the high achieving and successful ones.

Unlike you. And your mates.

If you are a working class boy, there is also every chance that a good chunk of the males you encounter are proving less than successful in life. If you are a working class boy, there is every chance that a good chunk of the males you encounter are underemployed and undereducated.  If you are a working-class boy, there is every chance that the places you are most likely to come across successful males – secondary school, celebrity culture and the professional services – seem so remote, sometimes even antagonistic, to your own everyday experiences as to be almost alien.

We paint in broad brush strokes, of course, but there is justification, if only to tease out the central point. The idea that women are systematically disadvantaged in society might well be true. For this reason, we might well deem it morally justified to address this, through our politics, through our legal system, through our education system, through our cultural norms and practices.

But by the frames of reference available to working class boys, this can so often seem only to contradict lived reality. And if we then sit them down and tell them that they are part of the privileged, the winners in society, such that their interests must at times be circumvented to help girls and women be more successful, to achieve, to succeed in life – what do we expect the reaction to be? To feel engaged in eradicating injustice, or to feel even more alienated? To feel empowered, or further disenfranchised? To feel magnanimous, or further slighted?

Working class boys have it pretty tough, though there is little political capital in making the improvement of their condition a priority. And if one has already accepted that gender must trump class, then there is little moral reason to do so either.

In the meantime, we have a generation and more of working-class boys becoming a sink subsection of society, developing into the kind of men that only confirms the worst suspicions of those who would so readily write them off. We must not deny moral agency here: oftentimes this is of their own making, engaged in a downward spiral, formed within a cultural landscape marked by precisely that transience and insecurity that shapes a view of life and living that schooling and learning is failing to counter. And which only further feeds into that feeling of alienation, that perpetually unsuccessful attempt at the art of living well.

The result? Disengaged, angry young men. Lots of them. It is no surprise that this is beginning to shape our politics.

The condition of working-class girls is an essential part of this story, though it is legitimate to question how effectively feminism has captured this reality. I am from a northern working-class family in which the women are hard, authoritative, confident – though their concerns seem a world away from the attentions of academics and professionals, that which characterises the principal cultural and political expressions of feminism. My point is not that we must therefore choose between the two, but allow as valid a space where other narratives might appear.

And one of those narratives might be the impact social changes – economic and cultural – have had on working-class boys and men. We might think these changes worthwhile, worthy, fully justified, but we must also take account of the experiences of those on the sharp-end of such progress. Maybe a working-class feminism would better capture an understanding of the needs of working-class boys too. Maybe it wouldn’t. I really don’t know.

But what is clear is that working-class boys are struggling. Economically, socially, culturally, they are fast becoming a dalit class. We cannot claim to be a society that seeks justice if we stand blindly by and allow it to happen. And if feminism is really the best vehicle we have for providing an account of the way gender interacts and impacts on one’s place in society, then maybe there are grounds for hope. Because this seems to be precisely what working-class boys need right now. Maybe, then, working-class boys need feminists too. I suppose the question is: would feminists be willing to address that need?

A Letter to (liberal) Labour

So you feel disenfranchised? Alienated? Like your party has been stolen from you? That you have no voice? That you are not welcome? Not valued? Feel that nobody is willing to listen, let alone talk about your concerns? That your political home has been taken over by those hostile to you? That your contribution to the history and indeed DNA of the party has been re-written? Ignored? Mocked? Despised? That without your help, and your support, the party would never have had the success it has? And yet your party now scorn people like you? Call you appalling names? Render your views outside the mainstream?

Sh*t, isn’t it?

But you did that too. Whilst you were in charge, you did the very same. And here’s the thing: given half the chance, you still would. Indeed, you still do. You’ve learned nothing. If the response to the referendum has shown us anything, it showed us that. You might wail now, but you are simply on the end of the same treatment you dished out to others for so long. You remain as convinced of your own superiority as are those that now displace you; if you hadn’t been, they would never have had chance to replace you. And every time you seek to grab the party back, to regain the levers of power, you do it whilst re-asserting the same. For those you disenfranchised, you are no better option. The worm has turned – you need those whom you made feel so unwelcome for so long; but they no longer need you. So many of them have somewhere else to go now. And the guilt and blame for that lies at your door as much as anyone.

The new politics isn’t left and right. The new politics, and a lot of the old politics, is defined by this:

 

 

But here’s the thing – if your politics is solely about clubbing together with those in the right-hand column against those in the left, then you’ve already lost. And this is what you’ve done. This is how you’ve defined yourself, measured yourself. Any appeals to common ground that cannot bridge this divide is no appeal to common ground at all. You wouldn’t even be willing to unpick the threads, to see what’s going on. Your only explanation is moral degeneracy or intellectual retardation or both. Bigots or blaggards, all of them. You smugly proclaim, eyebrows raised, that the Hard Left would sooner die in a ditch that compromise on their ideals. But so would you. Every bit as much. Indeed, this is exactly what you have done. Exactly what you are doing.

And yet, for all that, you are right. The country needs a Labour government. An actual Labour government. Which means we need you. Those who put themselves on the left need to come together. Which means you need those you despise. To find common ground, as the cliché goes. Though to be honest, for all you proclaim it, I’m not convinced you really believe those words. Or could deliver on it. Or would deliver it, even if you could.

And so we have a mess. Labour is dead. Long live Labour.

 

 

Losing the Working Class

Re-posted from the Catholic Herald blog. The original can be read here

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Labour is the party of the working class. We weren’t supposed to end up despised by them. We weren’t supposed to end up despising them.

But here we are. After decades spent embracing the creeds and infrastructure of liberalism, we are at a juncture which threatens our very existence. Labour’s doctrines have delivered a fractured civic space – we can no longer build coalitions, for where we once saw comrades we now convince ourselves there are only villains.

It is the startling descent into misanthropy and insult which hurts most.That moment when Gordon Brown called Gillian Duffy a “bigot” was but a scratching of the surface. The demographic most enthusiastic about voting Leave have been dismissed as racist or xenophobic for years, but it is only in the last few days, following the referendum, that I have seen the very legitimacy of their suffrage questioned – the prosperous, well-educated liberal left, summoning Victorian-era paternalism to question the wisdom of giving votes to the ill-educated.

Of course, this chasm between party and people is of surprise only to those cloistered away amongst the like-minded. Much has been made of the demographic divide between the two competing mindsets prior to the referendum. But turning this into one-dimensional face-off between the haves and the have-nots presumes an irresolvable conflict. That’s too pessimistic: there is a way out of our current malaise.

But we first need to understand what has gone wrong. It can be summed up in a word: liberalism.

This has been the central insight of the movement that coalesced around the name Blue Labour. Building upon foundations laid by Phillip Blond and his Red Tory analysis, its central claim was clear: to use the succinct words of Maurice Glasman, ‘Liberalism is alive – and it’s killing us.’

Blue Labour provided an account of the impact of liberalism upon our relationships, from the economic to the social to the romantic to the filial.  Liberty defined over and against the duties and obligations we owe one another, we contended, served only to loose the ties that bind our futures together. In a barren, empty landscape, free of obstructions, cold winds blow unfettered – and it has been the poorest who have felt the chill most keenly.

In a world in which our futures compete and do not cohere, we have found it difficult to forge a politics for all, since we have convinced ourselves that not all have a place in our politics. Labour embraced the new liberalism more keenly than any, first socially, and then in the realm of economics, in so doing surrendering its conservative defence of the family and society against the excesses of market and power.

Offering to patch up the victims with state largesse has proven insufficient. People want livelihood, stability and dignity, whilst all we offer is low-grade subsistence delivered with a slight sneer at a class of people quietly deemed unfit for this newly globalised world. It is quite an irony: in proclaiming “diversity”, we have become homogenous, no longer able to even understand the language of our comrades, let alone speak it.

Until it boils over. And then everybody has a theory about what has gone wrong and why. Most of these analyses consist in reinforcing much of that which has brought us to the precipice. Those who presided over the years in which Labour became so very distant from its core communities are now the ones seeking to lay all the blame at the door of its current leader. By trying to make this about Jeremy Corbyn, Labour are leading themselves away from a truth they must confront: this is about Labour.

And so the gap lengthens, and the people have turned from exasperation to active hostility. And we, as a party, have made ourselves unable to respond. Whatever happens next will be historic in the future of Labour. If, after whatever happens next, we still have a party called Labour. Either way, one thing is certain. There is a new politics. One wonders if a new party might be needed to meet it.

#IVotedLeave

What follows was originally intended for publication on the TES website. Following concerns about the phrasing of a particular paragraph, specifically the comments of Ann Mroz at the TES Awards evening last night, this did not happen. Whilst taking on board those concerns, I have decided to publish here the final draft suggestion as it stood, in addition to the original comments to which a modification was offered. Whilst I accept that there is ambiguity, I also maintain that my paraphrase is broadly justified. I will also post the video of Ann’s speech below – please do watch and form your own judgement. If, in time and with further reflection, I come to the view that I have indeed misinterpreted or misrepresented comments, I will happily amend accordingly.

__________________

Great Yarmouth, 71.5%. Middlesbrough, 65.5%. Blackpool, 67.5%. Blaenau Gwent, 62%. Thurrrock, 72.3%. The North East, the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, the East Midlands, the West Midlands, the South West, the South East, the East, even Wales.

This is not some rump. This is a majority, spread across an entire country.

The reaction of some amongst the teaching profession has been disappointing. Racism, xenophobia, Leave voters as thick, or deluded, or misled – nothing has been off the table. For some, there evidently exists the belief that only they can see through media spin and cast their vote rationally, an act beyond the abilities of the poor dupes voting Leave. One need not dwell too long on the dangers inherent in such thinking: the demonization and viewpoint delegitimisation of a whole swathe of people is probably not a value that, in our more sober moments, we would seek to pass on to our students.

For some, it is worse still. Alongside the various proclamations that teachers must now work to (re-)educate our students to eradicate such impulses from our schools, I am also told that [edited out once the video became available] the opening of the TES Awards included suggestions from the editor of this publication that teachers must address the kind of thinking that underpinned the arguments of Leave it was the responsibility of teachers to counter the kind of thinking that could move someone to vote Leave. The motivating factors, it appears, could only have been malign. Like a real-time exemplification of Haidt’s Righteous Mind thesis, that there might exist a worldview, indeed a value system, that might hold legitimacy beyond the majority mindset of the teaching tribe, is clearly anathema to some.culture-war1

On one level this might not be surprising – EU support correlates strongly with educational background, with a strong majority of graduates in favour of Remain, and teaching is of course a graduate profession – though the ferociousness of the reaction is nonetheless an issue of concern. Look at those figures for Great Yarmouth again – are we, as a profession, comfortable in being so far distant from those we serve? Might there be dangers in it?

Of course this brings uncomfortable questions. Does this political chasm between the teaching profession and those we serve point toward a bigger phenomenon? Does the (I would argue) liberal uniformity of the teaching profession sit well with the socially conservative values and worldview of large chunks of those we serve? Might we need to consider if this latent orthodoxy has shaped a school culture and values system that is not only alien to some, but might even alienate? Might we see some potential new perspectives for that stubborn underachievement of the ‘white working class’?

One might also urge caution for more pragmatic reasons: there is every chance a majority of parents in our school communities voted to Leave the European Union. It would be unwise to so publicly dismiss and disparage such a large group, whilst refusing legitimacy to alternative viewpoints might just reinforce that sense of dislocation. As the dust settles, more sensible minds will urge that we come together and seek to find a way of healing the social and cultural wounds that this referendum has laid bare.

Politically, this is already happening, even if it has not yet taken hold – speaking for my own party, the work of Jon Cruddas in seeking to understand the different political tribes, and what motivates and enlivens them, will no doubt prove invaluable, whilst Blue Labour has long narrated this disastrous socio-cultural disconnect and what it means for both Party and country. As the excellent John Harris recently wrote in the Guardian, ’what is now happening elsewhere in the UK underlines a tangle of other stuff – to do with culture, belonging and community – that is going to require a completely different level of response.’

ClqVA1IWEAEz32Y.jpgPerhaps we in teaching might also need to undertake a little of that self-reflection. Explaining the current milieu away by appeal to the superiority of the educated over the vices of the masses is unlikely to prove fruitful. Before we rush to judgement, we must see that those who tread different paths to the ones we walk nonetheless have legitimate concerns and arguments too.  And indeed some of those arguments – for democracy, perhaps, or sovereignty, or subsidiarity – hold intellectual legitimacy and appeal across the social and political spectrum.

Again: this is not some rump. This is a majority, spread across an entire country. We have a duty to engage with it.

 

___________________________

*I should also add there has been one small modification – the changing from Moral to Righetous, when referring to Haidt.

Did we create the ‘cry-bullies’?

A toxic new phenomenon is hitting our universities and is causing concern amongst the commentariat. It is the increasingly muscular determination of student culture to shut down viewpoints with which it disagrees, which usually breaks along lines defined by an evolving identity politics. With the no-platforming of individuals long-associated (in the minds of a certain generation) with free-speech and the challenging of social injustice, the situation has taken on a new urgency, with more and more sharpening their nibs and drafting the same conclusion: the kids are out of control.

And since these students arrive at university following 13 years in the state education system, one is forced to consider the question: have we helped create this phenomenon?

In our schools, the importance of ‘safe spaces’ is something that has long been recognised. Perhaps not in the way that term has come to be applied in our universities today, but certainly in the recognition that the learning process requires a certain protection which allows us, and our students, to address challenging issues honestly and openly. In short, one is less likely to get kids to engage with a discussion if there is a fear of mockery and shame associated with it.freespeech-SamGraham-flickr-370x242

And in a way, this is unsurprising – we rightly promote tolerance, respect, and equality, all of which directs the outer limits of both how and what we communicate. Kids need to have a comfortable environment to grow, develop, to be – it is our duty to provide that.

But if the outcome is what we have now, then we must surely ask: are we getting it wrong?

Now, to change tack a little, a question: how often, during their whole thirteen years year at school, do students receive a consistent socially conservative message? How often in thirteen years do students have a sustained critical engagement with socially conservative viewpoints? Indeed how often, during their entire schooling, do students ever receive socially conservative viewpoints presented in sensitive and sympathetic tones?

Answer: very rarely. And when they do, it is too often framed in the language of rejection. The socially conservative viewpoint has been ‘othered’ – something to be acknowledged, for sure, but usually to deny. Such that the fundamental legitimacy of these beliefs are rejected, the property of ‘others’, people not like us, with our education and our civility and our morally superior ways. In other words, mirrored in our schools is something of what Jon Cruddas has diagnosed as Labour’s alienation of ‘the Settlers’, ‘who are socially conservative and are concerned with home, family and national security. They value safety, a sense of belonging, their own cultural identity and the continuity of their way of life. They want to avoid risk. Tradition, rules and social order are important to them.’

The problem is this creates a cultural vacuum between schools and home, since it means students are only ever likely to come across socially-conservative viewpoints at home, and most likely to hear them challenged at school. Whilst one might think this natural, indeed defensible, it also inculcates a subtle prejudice against social-conservatism as being anti-intellectual, the articulation of ignorance, something ill-associated with the scholarly. It not only forces a choice upon a student, but also reinforces a sense of intellectual superiority in having made it in a particular direction. To be liberal is to be more intelligent. Haidt’s dilemma plays out in our schools every day.

Which is ironic, since there is little doubt that the cry-bully phenomenon is a deeply anti-intellectual movement, with the collapse into the personal really representing the disregard of the academic. But this also interweaves with wider educational presumptions and forces us to ask another difficult question: does our child-centred approach elevate the self-referential as beyond critique? Does it mean our students are less likely to be challenged, to be told they are wrong, their views lacking validity, having been elevated well above their role and status (student interview panels, anyone?)?

One might be inclined to say yes, but there is an obvious caveat here: those students with socially conservative views, which (as a rule of thumb) quite often means the poorest and the religious, will very much be challenged when they are perceived to be wrong. In other words, safe spaces tend to exist in one direction, defined by a hierarchy which takes particular form according to wider social mores, and that overarching injunction to provide a safe space, which usually means for the expression of the transgressive against presumed historical norms and prejudices. This elevates the perceived transgressive to the progressive, for which we are morally obliged to provide platform and a ‘safe space’ for expression.

downloadOf course none of this explains the cry-bullies phenomenon, which is as much about methodology (no platforming and denying freedom of speech) as opinion (why students are embracing this way of thinking.)

But I wonder if, putting the two together, a potential perspective emerges: a new liberal ethic which demonises impediment to personal gratification and agency, combined with a moral demand for safe spaces which castigate the closing down or challenging of this new liberalism (again, this tends not the case for socially conservative viewpoints – except for the issue of abortion, perhaps, which has proven more resilient), which produces a sense of both entitlement and superiority that renders alternative narratives simply beyond the pale. Such that we send students off to university with all the mission of a moralist but none of the skills the apologist. Their views appear self-evident, having been incubated in an environment in which schools are more inclined to protect them from scrutiny. Or, in the words of one American student, in a recent iteration of this phenomenon: ‘it is not about creating an intellectual space. It is not. Do you understand that? It is about creating a home here.

 

 

And so we observe the new phenomenon, of ‘cry-bullies’ in university shutting down any and all expression they dislike. Feelings of community override intellectual dispute, precisely because for those who hold to it, the alternative lacks intellectual merit and is solely an expression of malice or prejudice designed to hurt feelings.

In other words, exactly the kind of thing over which schools would (rightly, I think) intervene.

But it seems to have become something else. And now we’re hearing about it. Not because it is terribly new – it has been an issue for years depending on your moral and/or political compass – but because it is turning upon itself and putting into the firing line precisely those who, historically, were at the forefront of challenging the prejudices of a previous generation with their own cries of ‘bigot!’.  In other words, the hunters have become the hunted. And yet now, perhaps, both must stand together, to combat a more pernicious anti-intellectualism that risks the dignity of something bigger than both: the point of having any education at all.

Things the Candidates Won’t Say

Whilst all the candidates for Labour leadership have been very explicit in pointing out that we, as a Party, have lost our connection with those whom we seek to serve, no candidate has yet proceeded beyond their comfort zone in seeking to address why that might be. Each have tried to present a silver-bullet issue as the answer to their deliberations of ‘What Went Wrong?’, usually immigration or being ‘anti-business’, which serves only to enable the uncomfortable or inconvenient to be ruled out from the outset. As such, our candidates are unwittingly replicating precisely that which is the real answer to their question: that we, as a Party, have lost the ability to accept the legitimacy of alternative worldviews to the wholly dominant liberal paradigms within which the Party operates, and to build effective coalitions out of them.
So, below are a few contributing factors to the loss of that ‘emotional connection’ (to use Burnham’s terms) – not exhaustive, nor complete as an explanation, but factors we will rarely heard spoken nonetheless.
Liberal activists– whilst believing themselves to be disseminating the enlightened and the moral, the reality is that our liberal activist core can come across as nasty and downright hateful to anyone who happens to hold an alternative point of view, caricaturing and demonising long before coming into contact with the actual people who hold such views. There is not only an unwillingness to listen, but even a hostility to the possibility that any other view might be legitimate. Whilst this could conceivably (if not desirably) prove an electoral advantage if the target is opposition parties, nonetheless the often vitriolic demand for conformism has oftentimes isolated our own core vote. In short, denouncing your own natural allies is an ineffective way of building the kinds of coalitions that win elections.
AWS – whilst an item of absolute faith within the party (witness the reams of abuse hurled at those who have ever questioned it) AWS is actually unpopular. Not only has it alienated plenty within local associations, in which we really do need to engage in some serious bridge-building, but it also lacks support among the population at large – all sectors of society, by age, gender, political affiliation and social class, reject the idea as unjust.

Identity politics– Divide and conquer is an effective strategy for beating an opponent. It is a disastrous way of treating your own supporters. Labour’s focus on identity politics has too often left us slicing and dicing our own natural constituency, creating foes where there ought to have been allies. It has also got us into some ridiculous situations in which the logic of identity politics has been paraded in all its baffling glory, much to the bewilderment of the electorate – whether it is #killallwhitemen or denouncing everyone as bigots, identity politics has pulled the rug from underneath any concept of solidarity. Or in the words of Ed West:

Labour is in danger of becoming toxically progressive to the majority of people who do not identify with 1968 derived politics. ‘Left-wing’ is already a derogatory term in many working-class areas of South-East England, not because people oppose the idea of greater equality, or fairness, helping the weak or protecting workers’ rights, but because the left has become associated with obscure and intolerant sexual politics, utopian universalism, nonsensical doctrinal purity and state-enforced equality of outcomes.

Man Problem – In short, Labour has a man problem. Those who have given up on the party are disproportionately male, just as those who are moving from Labour to UKIP are overwhelmingly male, too. This is not coincidence; there must be reasons why a disproportionately large group of males do not feel Labour represents them anymore. For any politician to publicly reflect on this, let alone suggest anything might done about it, would be political suicide. Which tells you just about everything you need to know.
AmoralityFrank Field has put it best: ‘A significant proportion of deserting Labour voters… are hostile to the kind of society they perceive Labour is now in the business to promote… They witness a Labour Party that too often stands for a distribution of public services that they find repulsive; a housing allocation system that favours the newcomer and the social misfit over good behaviour over decades. They see Labour as soft on vulgar and uncivilised behaviour that plagues their lives and from which the rich shield themselves. Moreover, they witness a leadership that never expresses the anger they feel as the world they stand for is mocked and denigrated by hoodlums for whom official Labour always seems to have an understanding word.’

Intolerance – Put short, the party will brook no dissent on an increasingly large palette of issues. We show ourselves not only willing to stand back and watch as our own people are demonised, but willing to stick the boot in too. Labour has not yet found a way to reconcile its theoretical approaches to freedom with the ways in which this has meant that dissent within the Party, and increasingly within society, is shut down – often to cheers and applause from the Party itself. In this sense, Labour teams up with the Establishment, indeed often is the Establishment, to mock and alienate the already culturally and democratically dispossessed.  Instead of trying to bring these voices back into the fold, we choose instead make political hay by continuing to mock and alienate them – before then blaming them when, all of a sudden, we fall short at election time.

The Pro-Life Life – and Carlisle Election Candidates

Last weekend and this weekend, every church in Carlisle (so far as I’m aware) had leaflets handed out detailing the responses of the Tory and Labour candidates on two questions regarding pro-life issues. The questions focused on two issues deemed to be particularly pressing with regards to legislation, or the likelihood thereof. The details of the responses by the five main candidates to these questions are below (I confess I do not know if the independent candidate, Alfred Okam, received the chance to respond to these questions – if you’re reading this Alfred, I’m happy to update the post to include your views).
Personally, I find these pre-election exercises important and frustrating in equal measure – important, because they usefully outline candidates’ views on what ought to be our ‘red lines’, though frustrating because they often display a narrow focus. On a local level, with an individual co-ordinating responses at their own expense and time, this is logistical reality, and a great many thanks are owed to those who perform this service for their fellow churchgoers in Carlisle or anywhere else. Yet, to make a broader point, we must also be wary of reducing the pro-life vision down to a clutch of ‘yes or no’ questions, in isolation from the broader coherence and beauty of the pro-life vision – see the SPUC voting guide here for an example. This frustrates because it sells short – like explaining the depths of love by putting on a Hollywood RomCom. 
This, of course, impacts on the questions asked, even the questions deemed legitimate, and one often finds a lack of recognition that the pro-life agenda encompasses the economic too, so that social justice is a legitimate item for discernment under the pro-life banner. Whereas it has become commonplace for people to question how orthodox Catholics can remain part of the Labour Party (an issue I addressed in the Catholic Herald here), nonetheless one might be inclined to suggest that those Catholics who dismiss issues relating to a pro-life economy and the welfare state are putting their politics before their faith every bit as much as those whom they accuse of doing the same. One can accept that there is an issue of degree here, and there is a hierarchy of importance – but we must at least allow the idea that some cast their nets wider and consider issues that exist further down that hierarchy. After all, our narrative is broad and wide – if responses to immigration encompasses watching poor immigrants drown in the Mediterranean, is that a pro-life issue? If responses to austerity involve limiting child welfare to two children (one can only wonder what that will do for the abortion rate), is that a pro-life issue?
Which brings us back to the specific. On the day these leaflets were given out, one young-ish Mass-goer explained to me that he was a Labour man, but that he could not vote for the current Labour candidate after reading her responses to the questions asked. I’m sure he won’t be alone in thinking that. And, as a Labour supporter myself, it does present a problem. We have a candidate that would not represent our views on these matters, standing against a Tory candidate who has (on these particular issues – though not on issues of, say, welfare, or immigration, or the economy). It is no secret that Labour’s hold over the ‘Catholic vote’ (loosely termed) is on the wane (see here) – the results of this brief survey point toward to just one of the wider reasons why that might be.
All of which means that, for some, the pen might linger longer over the ballot paper than it might otherwise have done. Whereas, from a party perspective, left-leaning Catholics might hope this does not translate to more Tory votes, nonetheless could we really blame those who find it difficult weighing their commitment to social justice, and the pro-life narrative it encompasses, against their pro-life commitment on the more explicit issues of euthanasia or abortion? Come voting day, Catholics must make their own decision according to their conscience – they, we, believe we answer to a higher power than just the temporal.
Catholics will not find a party that neatly encompasses and manifests our unique vision of the Good Life – there will always be a reason not to vote for someone.  Catholics, like everyone else, are seeking a ‘best-fit’ party. Whichever way the vote goes come May 7th, we should continue to work ceaselessly for a genuinely pro-life society, in all its richness and beauty, touching every aspect of life and the way we, as a society, choose to value it.
Anyway, the two questions asked, and the responses from each of the five main candidates, are below (note: I have edited out more generalised comments and included the specific responses to the questions asked) :
I would be most grateful if you could let me know your views on, and likely support for:
1) Any proposal to introduce “assisted dying”, (as recently promoted by Lord Falconer, for instance).

Labour – Lee Sherriff (@MissLeeCarlisle)
[These answers were given via a meeting and the detail provided is from the questioner] Ms. Sherriff said that in principle she is not against allowing the medical profession to actively assist in the death of a patient, but that there should be safeguards. She is not fully acquainted with the details of Lord Falconer’s Bill, but would support it.

Conservative – John Stevenson (@John4Carlisle)
In response to your questions, if I am re-elected as MP for Carlisle I would vote against Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill. The question of assisted dying is an incredibly morally complex one, but I believe that such a change in legislation, even with safeguards, would be a dangerous step too far. I believe this particularly in respect to the elderly and vulnerable in our society.

Lib Dem – Loraine Birchall (@LoraineBirchall)
My belief about assisted dying is that it should be allowed, but only with extensive legal and medical safeguards to ensure that this is the genuine wish of the individual involved.    
Green – Helen Davison (@HelenDavison1)
With regard assisted dying, as I understand it from looking at Lord Falconer’s proposed bill it is talking about physicians being able to prescribe medication for an individual to self-administer and only to someone who has been assessed as being terminally ill and able to make a mentally competent decision (so not clouded by a treatable condition such as depression). I understand too that it is different from assisted suicide (for people who have chronic conditions or disabilities who are not dying) and voluntary euthanasia (where the doctor administers the medication to the individual). The draft bill sets out strict regulations under which it would occur and also ongoing monitoring of it by the Chief Medical Officer.  In theory I am not against this. If someone has reached that point towards the end of their life that they really cannot bear the suffering they are under and palliative care is not alleviating their symptoms I would like them to have the opportunity to make that choice. However, as I understand it the BMA remain against it and I would want to understand their reasons for that before saying yes to it. I would also want to be sure that it was not open to abuse and that, within our healthcare set up as it is that it would work. This again leads back to the need for a better funded adequately-staffed health service which the Green party is fighting for.
UKIP – Fiona Mills (@FionaMillsUKIP)
For ‘assisted dying,’ I would need to be convinced that there were robust safeguards in place so that there could be no instances of coercion or foul play. 
 2)    Any proposal to reduce the time limit for medical abortions below the current norm of 24 weeks

Labour – Lee Sherriff (@MissLeeCarlisle)
Ms Sherriff said that she had always been a strong supporter of Women’s Rights, and appreciated the difficulties women faced. She felt the critical issue was viability of a foetus outside the womb and would not support any reduction in the current time limit.

Conservative – John Stevenson (@John4Carlisle)
In regards to the issue of time limits for abortion, I do support a reduction in the current limit. It is my view that we should be in line with other European countries who have shorter time limits. I would vote accordingly in Parliament.
Lib Dem – Loraine Birchall (@LoraineBirchall)
As for your second question, there have been a variety of debates since the law was changed to reduce the time limit from 28 to 24 weeks and discussions are still ongoing regarding dropping the time limit to 22 weeks.     I do believe women should have the choice but I’d like to know more about the impact of reducing the time limit before making my decision and have asked for more information on this subject.

Green – Helen Davison (@HelenDavison1)
With regard to reducing the age limit for abortions from 24 weeks. Firstly I think it is important to recognise that abortion is not something that women undertake lightly. It is a huge decision to make. Much as I personally feel uncomfortable that foetuses are aborted, I would not want us to go back to a situation where people feel compelled to use back-street abortions, with the inherent health risks to the mothers. And so it remains important that it is available to women in a safe environment. I assume there were good reasons as to why the limit was set at 24 weeks originally and would want to see good evidence as to why it should now be reduced before doing so. I am aware that some women do not discover until the 20 week scan that there are abnormalities with their baby and they need the time to make the right decision for themselves. 
I think in the wider societal context we should be doing more to reduce the need for abortions in the first place and Green Party policy would support this happening. Counselling should be offered to every woman considering an abortion. We would seek to significantly improve sex and relationship education at schools with appropriate education about the consequences of sexual activities at an age before they are likely to become sexually active, alongside providing young people with parenting skills, so they may feel more able to deal with pregnancy should it happen. We would want to ensure adequate provision of free family planning advice by properly trained health workers and counsellors. Our policy is also to ensure adequate financial and social support for parents, particularly lone parents and those with disabled children, so that women do not feel pressure to terminate a pregnancy purely because they would be unable to make financial ends meet.
UKIP – Fiona Mills (@FionaMillsUKIP)

Regarding the 24 week time limit for abortions, I would be supportive of reducing that limit.