Is it better to shout and thereby hasten the end, or to keep silent and gain thereby a slower death?
The quandary faced by Tomáš in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is not confined to a character in a novel set against the background of Czechoslovakia in 1968. The question of whether one protests, in the knowledge it will make things worse, or just goes quietly, with resentment about one’s fate, is a widespread experience.
The Green Party face such a quandary when their conference meets on Saturday to decide whether the party should remain part of the Government coalition.
The Government’s rescue package for the banks and developers; the cuts in health and education spending; the severe measures affecting working people likely to be included in the next Budget; these are at a far remove from the political philosophy of many Green Party members. Any radical leanings the party may once have had seem to have long since been washed away by the stormy waters of being in government. Along with its radicalism, the Green Party has lost most of its electoral base; in the county council elections it was reduced to just three councillors in the whole country.
The quandary is whether to stand on principles and depart, in the knowledge that an ensuing election may deprive them of every parliamentary seat, or to hold on for another two and a half years, knowing they are a prisoner of their coalition partners and knowing they will bear opprobrium for abandoning core beliefs.
In Britain, strangely enough, David Cameron could face not an end, but the crumbling of a future. The Irish vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty has left him in a difficult position. His promise of a referendum on the Treaty, if it had not been enacted by the time of the General Election, was intended to satisfy elements in his party opposed to the European Union, but what happens now if the Treaty is in force? Will the Euro-sceptic wing of his party not still demand the right to a national vote on the matter? If Mr Cameron says that such a vote is not possible, will he be conceding that Britain has lost sovereignty to the extent that it cannot hold a referendum if it chooses?
What does Mr Cameron do? Does he stand up and shout that Britain is part of Europe or, alternatively, that Britain is leaving Europe, in the knowledge that one or other half of his party will depart? Or does he remain silent hoping to postpone the problems until after the General Election, knowing his administration will be dogged by the bickering that overhung the years of John Major, if he does not grasp the nettle?
Realpolitik is always defended by those who engage in it as a matter of pragmatism; the German Greens described those who objected to their participation in government as ‘fundamentalists’, and the Irish Greens would make similar accusations; David Cameron would regard his attempts to mollify both wings of his party as a matter of practical politics; so is there no place left for principle?
Christians should always be wary of political deals done to keep the peace for the moment. There is a nasty piece of practical politics done in Jerusalem around about 33 AD, Pilate the Roman imperial administrator concedes the life of a man in order to placate community leaders, “That day Herod and Pilate became friends – before this they had been enemies”.
Christian politics must be about integrity and honesty; even if that means losing one’s seat.