Late May saw elections to the European Parliament.
It is the largest exercise in democracy in the world apart from in India, with nearly 400 million EU citizens eligible to vote.
The main story in this country was the success of the UK Independence Party, UKIP, led by Nigel Farage. (He grew up in Downe, in Kent, and attended Downe Baptist Church Sunday School as a youngster). But this was part of a wider move across Europe, as voters got behind anti-EU and nationalist parties in many countries.
Freedom of movement
Political commentators put UKIP’s success mostly down to concerns over the EU immigration laws. It is argued that free movement of workers across Europe is good for the economy. But it lacks common sense in the eyes of many people.
First, our island is small and how can it possibly absorb the numbers of people who want to settle here? Don’t we already have a chronic shortage of affordable housing? And to be labelled a ‘racist’ for even asking such obvious questions does not help.
A second situation stares me in the face. We have a family in our congregation whose son was born here, grew up here, went to school here and later decided to study at Moore Theological College in Australia. There he took out dual British-Australian citizenship and married an Australian girl and they now have children. Before God he feels he would like to work for the Lord and pastor a church in the UK. But that is not so easy. Though he is English and is married to a Commonwealth citizen there seem to be insuperable hurdles to his returning with his family. Why?
Thirdly, a few months ago we had the strange spectacle of the government pleading with Muslim women to try to dissuade British Muslim men from going to fight for Al Qaeda-related groups in Syria (and now Iraq). They were worried that such men would promote violent jihad on their return to this country. Of course, people have the freedom to choose to go, but it seems that the government under EU rules can do nothing to stop their return. There was nothing from the government along the lines of ‘if you go, you can’t come back’. Go and fight for a terror group and you can come back; go to Bible college and marry an Australian and you can’t.
No wonder many voters wanted to give the main political parties a kick up the backside by voting for UKIP in May.
Low turn out
But beneath the Euro headlines there is another story. It has to do with lack of participation. Only 43% of those eligible to vote across Europe participated. And it is age related. Two thirds of those aged 18-24 did not vote in the 2004 elections. Abstention rates were even higher in 2009 and I am informed that this trend is likely to have continued in May. Church is not the only thing young people have given up on. They also appear to be giving up on democracy. Brought up on a ‘feel-good’ world of entertainment, virtual reality and social media, are young people turned off by the hard world of politics, which rarely feels good, especially that of the distant and bureaucratic ‘kingdom’ of Brussels? Former EN Chairman Sir Fred Catherwood, an MEP himself in times past, would remind us that the EU has been instrumental in keeping the peace in Europe since WWII. Whether he’s right, I don’t know. But such things are perhaps being forgotten by a rising generation.