‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ It’s one of those Gospel sayings that seems, rather unhelpfully, to be advocating an impossibly high moral standard in order to achieve some intangible spiritual benefit. But what if, as I’m beginning to see about more and more of Jesus’ teachings, if it’s actually a matter of practical politics?
The Panama Papers leak could have been a hugely enlightening glimpse into the murky mysteries of offshore finance, a sort of Tax Havens 101 for the mainstream. If you actually want to know how the system works, you’re much better off reading Nicholas Shaxson’s Treasure Islands, or even visiting the Christian Aid website, but we work with what we have. Or, alternatively, we don’t.
Within days, the story has been narrowed and personalised into a campaign for the resignation of David Cameron. What a waste. Cameron leads an odious, short-sighted and vindictive government, but he does not single-handedly either prop up or benefit from the massive injustice and secrecy of the offshore system. He is wealthy, but not super-rich, and will have ensured that he is excellently advised. His resignation, should it happen, would be a triumph for no one but his Conservative party rivals, and in particular for the Brexit campaign.
If we want to look for who or what benefits from the system hinted at by the Panama Papers, pointing the finger at individuals will get us nowhere. The City of London, and the web of related secrecy jurisdictions, are not embodied in a single person, however significant a figurehead. And it is the City of London which has most to fear from the proposed introduction of a Tobin or Robin Hood tax by the European Union.
It’s the same, on whatever scale you look, with our domestic politics here in Northern Ireland. As long as we are judging individuals, we are blind to the wider systems that so urgently need change. Read any local newspaper and you’ll find the same; condemnation and counter-condemnation, in a spiral that moves further and further from the issues we need to address. And impending elections only intensify the blame, and the waste of time, energy and goodwill.
Suppose we, in an experiment with quite a different fundamentalism, tried taking Jesus seriously? What if we actually didn’t rush to condemn those leaders or rivals with whom we don’t agree, and looked instead at the flawed environment which has sent them so far off kilter? I can’t say that I get it right all the time myself; I’ve passed judgment enough, if mainly inside my head. But I know that it never leads to anything but niggling unease, and a bitter taste in the soul.
In the Green Party we’re in a unique position. Tied to neither of the binary ‘traditions’, we don’t need to rush to the defence of one against the other. With a clear vision of the work to be done, we can stand side by side and look forward to the tasks of tomorrow. And as part of a global movement, we can learn from the experiences, the successes and, yes, sometimes the mistakes, of our sister parties across the world.
As I say, I can’t guarantee always to get it right. But I do promise, as a serious candidate for the votes of the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone, to look at my political rivals as human beings, to seek common ground for the common good, and to speak out clearly about the real forces that are holding us back. Anything else would be a waste of this great opportunity. And you already know that we’re not about waste.