I was asked to write a piece for the Leicester Mercury on the elections. With limited wordage, this was my piece (in the event the first two paragraphs were cut):
Once more we are caught up in the excitement of the pre-election road-show. The parties have launched their manifestos and the media are picking over the carcasses with alacrity. We face regular opinion poll reports, and follow the election soap with varying degrees of compulsion and boredom.
So, how does a Buddhist regard this election process? How do we decide which way to vote?
Buddhists see the troubles of humanity as being rooted in three poisons. These are greed, hate and delusion. All problems grow from our compulsion to grasp or reject things out of the delusion of self-interest. Reading current election discussions in the media, one could be forgiven for thinking that voting decisions are based on at least one of the three poisons; greed, hate and delusion are everywhere. Who offers the best tax deal for me? Whose legislation will infringe my privileges? Or, who will be toughest on unwanted people – stopping immigration, or locking up criminals? Most people, it seems, vote on the basis of self-interest.
Buddhists believe in non-harm. We work actively for a peaceful, compassionate society. This includes being a world presence as a facilitator of peace and promoter of economic fairness. A high priority, then, is a party that commits to avoiding war. Also, as residents of a rich nation, few Buddhists desire to live on the exploitation of poorer countries. Foreign policy, then, is a matter of grave concern.
As a Buddhist, I look for policies that may create the foundations of a compassionate world. Buddhism teaches that change comes about through causes and conditions and that creating compassionate conditions, we enable a better future. This is not naïve. It means looking at the ultimate consequences of legislation. Law and order is a big issue in elections. Too often debate focuses on retribution rather than re-education and restorative measures. Tough policies are popular, but in the long term simply sow seeds for future crime and violence. In the past our country prided itself on offering safe haven to refugees, but modern trends in politics have changed. Is this really in our interests? Such policies come home to roost in surprising ways. History has taught that countries that welcomed refugees in the past often benefited greatly from the skills and wealth that such people brought with them. Those that shun others, become friendless.
Political one-liners focus on individual benefit, but a position based on collectivism and compassion need not mean deprivation. One only has to visit a hospital or ride on a train in France to realise that higher taxes linked to better services can bring benefits to everyone, and especially the underprivileged.
Religion is about society. It is collective. As with most faiths, Buddhism is concerned with the common good, not individual benefit. Religion offers a critique of political policy for its social and ethical implications. So, this election, vote ethically.