I find that I have been avoiding the election campaign. Perhaps the verbs are too strong - I am aware that I’m not attending to it.
In one sense that is odd. Five years ago, I was the one asked to write the ‘it is important to vote’ column for the diocesan magazine and the one invited to chair the Churches Together organised hustings in Grimsby.
So why am I indifferent to the campaign going on around me? It is because I don’t see any evidence that the candidates want to engage with the questions I might want to ask.
At one level this is simply obvious and explicit: my wife e-mailed all the candidates with questions about one issue and received replies from only two (Green and Lib Dem) and certainly not from the three theoretically electable in this constituency (Conservative, Labour and UKIP).
At another level, this is hidden by the noise of large numbers of questions appearing to be asked and answered; it is on this that I have been reflecting in particular.
For example, I would like to know from a Conservative or LibDem candidate why Coalition defence of the “bedroom tax” was always based on the freedom to move of the tenant when it was known from the start that there was insufficient supply of smaller properties for this to be true.
Putting a question like this, however, only ever provokes the appearance of an answer – the person questioned says what his or her party wants to communicate about benefits cuts. A question on this topic has been asked and an answer on this topic given – but I am none the wiser about the point I wanted tackled.
A few of the candidates have put literature through my door inviting me to return a pro-forma indicating which issues matter to me. I am supposed to feel that there is a genuine interest in my priorities – but I know it is data the party needs for marketing (in exactly the same way that supermarkets gather data via “reward” cards).
The most high profile indication of politicians’ unwillingness to allow the questioner to set any genuine agenda was the reaction to the House of Bishop’s public letter about the issues for this election.
A Cabinet member was sent out simply to rubbish the idea of the Bishops setting any agenda. He said that no such letter had been issued last time when Labour was in office - despite, as a practising Catholic, his being fully aware both that the Catholic Bishops issue such a letter each election and that the new Archbishop of Canterbury has been explicit about how much he values this expression of ‘catholic social teaching’ and wanted to follow this example.
This is, of course, exactly what happened when the former Archbishop of Canterbury tried to provoke real debate as the guest editor of an issue of the New Statesman in 2011. Now the election has come, the parties have got their own planning grids of the issues to be raised – and simply dismiss anyone who seeks to explore any agenda outside this grid.
Meanwhile, having found larch flower in Bradley Woods recently, we found ash flower when we were in Pickworth churchyard soon after that.