In the UK this year we have seen a number of government u-turns. These u-turns include the government changing their policy in : the wearing of face masks in schools and shops, the grading of A levels and GCSE’s, the use of Huawei technology in our 5G network, the development of the NHS test and trace app and the provision of free school meals in the summer holidays.
Whenever a government makes a u-turn it normally generates headlines in the media. The opposition parties always highlight this, using it as an opportunity to put the government under pressure. Additionally, we have also been seeing Conservative back-benchers criticise the government for the number of u-turns that have been made this year.
However are government u-turns wrong? Do they undermine the confidence of the public in the government? Are they just of interest to those in the so called Westminster bubble? What should the Christian response be?
There can be various factors behind a government u-turn. New information and evidence may come to light after the original policy is made which needs to be considered as part of the decision making process. To ignore these would be foolish and therefore it is a sign of a responsible government to consider these facts in their decision making. Making a u-turn shows that the government is willingly to admit that they made a mistake and were wrong with their original decision.
If we are being honest none of us make right decisions 100% of the time. Everyone make mistakes and takes wrong decisions in life. We may not like to admit it but it is impossible to deny the fact. Human make mistakes. The public know people get decisions wrong and it is very unlikely that they would expect any government to always get things right.
When I consider government u-turns from a Christian prospective I am reminded of the act of repentance. One of the definitions of repentance is that we change the direction in which we are heading. Instead of walking away from God we make a u-turn and turn to God. Therefore I think it is fair to say that a Christian should be understanding of a government that makes a change in policy direction, if they believed that their original policy is now wrong.
However, in respect of government u-turns there is also another side of this that we need to consider too. What happens when the government makes a u-turn after making a decision that proves to be unpopular with the public?
For example: as a result of the lockdown and furlough scheme the country is currently facing a huge debt. There are two ways to address this, either reduce expenditure or increase taxation. The Prime Minister has promised that we will not be returning to the days of austerity. Therefore taxation must increase. Now if in the forthcoming budget the Chancellor increases the top rate of income tax from 40% to 45% then that would obviously help reduce the debt. But this would undoubtedly upset the Conservative Party and could led to a slump in their ratings in the opinion polls. The government would then come under pressure to reverse this decision. However reversing a decision because it is unpopular is not the same as making a u-turn because one is wrong. This would show that the government is scared of making decisions that do not sit well with the electorate.
I believe that the public would be less sympathetic with this as everyone has to make decisions in life which upsets people. Do parents refrain from disciplining their children because they do not wish to upset them? Does a school teacher always give top marks to all pupils to avoid upsetting any of their class? Tough and unpopular decisions need to be made in life.
Likewise, when examining this from a Christian prospective making u-turns because a decision is unpopular is not the right thing to do. Just as the church should not change their message when it is not popular with everyone, then we would not expect the government to do this either.
In closing I would like to suggest that we remember to pray for those in government as Paul instructed Timothy:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV
It’s not easy being in government. There are times when u-turns are right and times they are wrong. Our politicians need wisdom to know the difference!