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The relational route to political strategy

Last week I urged party leaders to give more thought to the big picture they are offering voters. Cameron’s ‘big society’ seems to have died and Miliband’s ‘one nation’ undermined by his union backers.

Parliamentary debates are usually about the pros and cons of specific policies and too often in Government the law of unintended consequences interrupts, forcing embarrassing U-turns as we saw with the 2012 Budget. It is common sense; policies need to be integrated into a coherent strategy to work together. Politically, it is more intelligible to the voters to see the big picture each party offers them than a collection of individual policies on some of which the parties agree anyway. From a management perspective integration means better coordination.

Clear strategic thinking takes account of the inevitable interconnectedness of policies. For example, high levels of public expenditure funded from borrowing drives up interest rates which affects mortgages and makes house purchase more difficult for first time buyers. Employment policies that require long hours and unsocial hours affect family life. Overseas aid policies are more effective when integrated with foreign and defence policies. Immigration policies can create pressures on schools, hospitals, welfare programmes and the jobs market. Sentencing and prison policies that do little to reform prisoners and prepare them for release contribute to high levels of re-offending.

Holistic vision and strategy are much more than smart sound bites crafted by public relations officers, nor are they abstract ideology. They are statements about the sort of society each party wishes to create if elected, translated into policies to achieve this, taking account of domestic and global realities. They will reflect values about humanness, community life, the state of a nation’s economy and resources and its culture, history and international role.

People of faith will want this vision to reflect their religious values, as happens in some Islamic societies. In previous centuries British public policy was influenced, at least in part, by the Christian faith but that is gradually changing as Britain becomes increasingly pluralist and secular. The current controversy about the legalisation of same-sex marriage is an obvious example. 25% of the population declare no religious faith and judged by church attendance; many of those still professing a faith do not take it sufficiently seriously to persuade politicians to build their strategies around biblical principles.

The Cambridge think tank, the Jubilee Centre, offers a way of overcoming these impediments. Their Jubilee Roadmap [i]outlines a web of interconnected problems facing Britain and shows how a biblical vision for Britain can be built to tackle them on the basis of a relational approach to life, using non-religious language in order to influence those who do not understand or are hostile to Christianity. Relational thinking has been around for twenty years and deserves a wider audience of people who want to make a difference. It is worth closer examination.

[i] The Jubilee Roadmap: finding our way in the 21st century, Guy Brandon (The Jubilee Centre, 3 Hooper Street, Cambridge, CB1 2NZ)