Ihave a confession to make: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this general election. Have you, by any chance? No, I thought not. After all, this country is not in a good place. We’re up to our necks in debt. We’ve had the deepest recession since the War. And the MPs’ expenses scandal destroyed what little trust we had left in our elected politicians. But there’s no point denying it – I’ve found the past six weeks riveting.
There are two reasons why. First – and I’m sorry if this makes anyone feel old – it’s because when the last election took place I was 17. I remained on the sidelines, without a vote, revising for A-levels and the like. This was a brand new experience.
Second, my vote really mattered: the polls haven’t been closer since 1992, and I’ve recently moved into a marginal constituency in North London. Annoyingly, of course, at the time of writing I don’t know the outcome of the election. But hung parliaments aside, by the time you read this column Britain should have chosen a new Prime Minister.
If it’s David Cameron, I’ll be a happy man – not onIy because I bet £10 on his victory some months ago, but because I believe he deserves the job. Sure, he’s not a Catholic himself, but he does share some of our core beliefs: that the family is paramount; that faith schools offer children a brilliant education and should be supported by the government; that, despite the secular consensus, religion can be a powerful force for good in our society.
There’s just one thing that worries me. During the second leaders’ television debate on Sky it became very clear that none of the party leaders seemed ready for the simplest of questions: “Do you support the Pope’s visit to Britain?” Tellingly, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg had nothing prepared. No lines rehearsed. Hmm, they said, urgently shuffling their notes and looking into the blank faces of the studio audience. “You can’t keep a lid on sin,” the Lib Dem leader eventually rambled, “and of course you have to move with the times... I do welcome the Pope’s visit to Britain.” Meanwhile, Cameron and Brown both welcomed the Pope’s visit, but did so nervously, as if they were busking with unfamiliar musical instruments.
As I’ve said before in this column, Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain will likely be the first event of international importance faced by the new government. For millions of British Catholics it will be of enormous significance how the Pope is welcomed; not only how he is treated by the Government, but how that is reflected by the public at large, too. It isn’t surprising that Brown, Cameron and Clegg lost a bit of perspective during the course of election campaign. Let’s just hope their unpreparedness isn’t a sign of what’s to come.
The Catholic Church in South Africa has set up a website – churchontheball.com – to capitalise on the attention which the football World Cup will focus on that country in June. It’s an excellent idea, and I was interested to see that the official World Cup prayer included a line about “hooliganism of any kind and exploitation and abuse, especially of those most vulnerable”.
The very next day I read about the brutal slum clearances that are taking place in South African cities as part of the “beautification” before the World Cup begins. Teams of thugs, armed with clubs and crowbars, are being sent into shanty towns to flatten homes and eject the poor inhabitants, many of whom are Zimbabwean refugees. The hooliganism has begun: I pray that the South African Catholic Church is doing all it can to stop it.