Yesterday morning, at Mass, I spotted this leaflet from the bishops of England and Wales. It includes some questions that the bishops suggest voters might ask their candidates. Here are the questions, and my answers. I can answer most of the questions. My answers nearly always refer to UKIP policy; often they refer to my own opinions and ways in which I would finesse UKIP policy or take it further. I hope that fair-minded readers, including bishops, will agree with me that UKIP is the natural home for Catholic voters like me.
LEAVING THE EUROPEAN UNION
Q: Where do I stand on the future of EU citizens in the UK and reciprocal rights for UK citizens in the EU?
A: UKIP will allow law-abiding EU citizens living in the UK before Article 50 was triggered the right to stay here indefinitely. We expect the same concession to be granted to British citizens living overseas within the EU. EU nationals who entered the UK after 29th March 2017 will not have the automatic right to remain and when we leave the EU will lose access to all benefits, including non-urgent healthcare. No benefits will be paid for any dependants living overseas when we leave the EU.
That’s a direct quote from the UKIP manifesto; I am happy to give it my personal endorsement.
Q: What issues do I think should be the top priority when forming new international partnerships?
A: The context of this question is negotiations for trade deals on leaving the EU. Otherwise, I would answer that the top priority is peaceful relations among nations. But in the specific context of trade; I say that the top priority should be mutual respect and goodwill among friendly trading partners.
Those who have not already done so might like to watch Brexit: the Movie, to see how EU protectionism damages the prospects of poorer countries, fuelling the migration crisis we see unfolding especially in the Mediterranean. There seems to be an assumption among some people, perhaps even some bishops, that the EU is a force for good in the wider world. Almost nothing could be further from the truth.
ISSUES ON FAMILY AND LIFE
Q: Will I uphold parliament’s 2015 decision to protect society’s most vulnerable people, by preventing the legalisation of assisted dying? Will I support measures to promote the intrinsic value of life at every stage?
A: I believe that human life should be protected from conception until natural death. You can take it for granted that I will support measures to promote the intrinsic value of life at every stage.
Q: What policies do I propose for the flourishing of family life?
A: The family is the very basis of society. Government policies have undermined family life for at least a generation. What government must do most of all for families specifically is to enable parents to care for their children and children to care for their parents through easing the tax burden. When my wife and I were first married, 25 years ago, we had the benefit of a married couple’s tax allowance … for a few months. It was already on the way out, even under a so-called “conservative” government. That’s not good enough. It has been UKIP’s policy for many years to raise the tax-free allowance for income tax (currently, our policy is to raise it from £11,500 to £13,500); I would go further and argue for fully transferable tax allowances between spouses. We will remove both VAT on household fuels and also the carbon levy that artificially inflates fuel bills. These policies would save lower-income families significant amounts of money (well over £1000 a year for a typical two-earner family); my own proposal for a transferable tax allowance between spouses would save typical families much more and enable parents to stay at home to care for children, rather than forcing mothers into the workplace.
But families also need affordable places to live, and there is a housing crisis. UKIP’s outstanding housing policy is to create half a million factory-built modular homes, affordable (at under £100,000) on the average wage (c. £26,000), to provide secure homes especially for young families. That’s the only credible policy I have heard for solving the housing crisis, and I congratulate UKIP’s housing spokesman, Ray Finch, for his excellent work.
Many other UKIP policies, for example on education and social care, are particularly important for families.
Q: Do I support urgent prison reform and better resourcing?
A: I’m lucky not to have any experience of the prison system, either personally or in my family, but I know that prisons are overcrowded, dangerous places. UKIP’s policy to solve these problems is focussed on the provision of additional prison places and additional prison staff. We will continue with the current prison building programme, but would not close the existing prisons that the new ones are supposed to replace, thereby increasing capacity. We will restore the 7,000 prison officer places lost since 2010, to recover adequate staffing levels.
Q: How will I ensure that we operate a fair migration system for people wanting to enter and work in the UK?
A: UKIP argues for a fair, balanced migration system. We support the Balanced Migration movement, and propose an Australian-style points-based system. Mass migration such as we have seen in Britain is recent years is hugely damaging both to countries of origin and to destination countries, and is not morally justified.
REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS
Q: Will I work to ensure that current UK commitments to resettle refugees is kept and options to expand the scheme are considered? Will I promote a welcoming society and stand against hate crime?
A: UKIP will comply fully with the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and honour our commitment to genuine asylum seekers.
The bishops refer to the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme. Neither UKIP nor I support this programme. It is at least preferable that the British Government is taking refugees directly from Syria, not least because it reduces the risk from unsafe sea crossings. But we think this scheme is bad for the long-term interests of Syria; a counterproductive gesture. Resettlement of refugees should be a last resort. I prefer to support charitable activities aimed at maintaining and supporting communities without unnecessary and damaging migration, such as the work of Aid to the Church in Need.
I am sorry to see the bishops use the term “hate crime”, which I think has quickly become discredited, but I agree that all people living in Britain, whatever their origin, should abide by our laws and social conventions to respect others irrespective of the others’ backgrounds.
FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND BELIEF
Q: How do I intend to promote freedom of religion or belief for all, and what steps could be taken as a priority in UK foreign policy to protect religious minorities, including Christian minorities?
A: The dignity of the person demands that people should not coerced into religious belief, also that people must be free to live their lives according to their religion so long as that does not undermine society in a serious way. This is perennial Church teaching. It must be made true in Britain, too. So, for example the Sexual Orientation Regulations must go.
Christian people also suffer persecution overseas, especially in communist and Moslem countries. I support efforts, for example by Aid to the Church in Need, to support them. But I do not know what the government can do directly. A generation ago, the Labour Party came to power promising an “ethical foreign policy”, which has left the world, especially Christians in the middle east, in a far worse condition than before. So that’s a failed idea, and I do not have the expertise to know what we can do politically. I can only pray, and support charitable initiatives. (Did I say how much I admire Aid to the Church in Need?)
HELPING THE WORLD’S POOREST
Q: Will your candidates commit to protecting and enhancing the international development budget?
A: The bishops think that aid provided by the UK saves lives and helps people out of poverty. I think they are wrong. UKIP and I think that trade, rather than aid, is the long-term, sustainable way that rich countries like Britain can help poorer countries, and that our aid is counterproductive – worse than useless, keeping poor countries and poor people in a state of dependence. International aid is only justified as short-term activity in response to emergencies. UKIP and I think that the UK’s international aid budget is badly spent, that the Department for International Development should be abolished (its residual functions transferred to the Foreign Office) and that targets for foreign aid should be scrapped.
Recent figures (for 2015) show an annual aid budget of £12 billion. Instead, UKIP will spend more each year (£12 billion by 2021-22) on fixing the crises in NHS and social care.
CARING FOR THE VULNERABLE
Q: Where do I stand on helping the poorest, in terms of health, social care and housing? How will I support people with mental health problems? How will I finance these services?
A: Human life is precious from its earliest stages, to be protected, cherished, nourished. When people fall ill, or are otherwise in need, they need additional support from family and society. People close to me have at times both been given such care and given it to others. I think that is a common experience. So think we nearly all have some knowledge of this subject.
UKIP’s top spending priority for the next five years is health and social care. We will establish a Department of Health and Care, to manage the two aspects jointly, especially to ease the transfer from hospital to social care. We will fill the gap in doctors’ and nurses’ positions, both in hospitals and GP clinics, though an expanded training programme aimed at excluding no suitable candidates who wish to work in medicine, surgery, or nursing of all kinds. We recognise the significance of mental health problems, and propose special care for children,young mothers, and ex-servicemen. We will reverse recent cuts in care budgets, supporting residential and non-residential care for the elderly and infirm.
Our annual budget for this will rise to approximately £12 billion by 2021-22; our cost-neutral programme covers this and other spending items from a range of sources totalling nearly £40 billion by the same financial year and including a Brexit bonus of nearly £10 billion, savings on damaging foreign aid of £12 billion, and savings of over £5 billion made through cancelling the HS2 rail link.
Q: Will I support parental choice for the education of children? Will I support Catholic schools as part of this choice for faith-based education?
A: Parents are the primary educators of their children, as the Church teaches us. UKIP is committed to true diversity of provision at secondary level, providing the widest possible choice. I hope that the bishops will respond to this policy by restoring high-quality academic education in our voluntary-aided schools and by supporting our efforts to enhance on-the-job education through a scheme similar to Germany’s successful Dual Vocational Training system.
There ought, of course, to be a voucher system. That would really put parents in control of their children’s education. Unfortunately, that’s not UKIP policy. Yet.
We will end sex education in primary schools.
I fully support Catholic schools’ position in the current state education system. (Of course, a voucher system would give Church Schools more freedom and be much batter in other ways. too.) Proposals from some quarters to abolish Church schools on grounds of irreligion are intolerant and unacceptable. I trust, though, that the bishops will do their bit and re-establish the integrity of Catholic education in Catholic schools.
Q: How will I give political support to the fight against modern slavery and better assistance for its victims?
A: I understand that by “modern slavery” is meant the phenomenon by which people, often brought into Britain from overseas and sometimes on false pretences, are trapped into menial work, prostitution, or crime. I don’t know what to do about this scourge specifically, in isolation from policy on immigration, integration, and crime and punishment. UKIP doesn’t have explicit policy on modern slavery.