So it has been decided. There is to be a General Election on 12 December and much has been made of the fact that this is the first December election since 1923. Things could be worse however, as the 1885 General Election took place over three weeks from 24 November to 18 December 1885. It was nonetheless an important milestone in social history, as it extended voting rights so that for the first time a majority of adult males could vote and most constituencies returned only a single member to Parliament. These were quite radical developments and at that election large numbers of men voted for the first time. It saw the Liberals, led by Gladstone win the most seats, but not an overall majority, with the Irish Nationalists holding the balance of power and the Unionist MPs having a significant voice. The 1885 election also saw the first socialist party, the Social Democratic Freedom participate.
So significant was this election that my predecessor, Bishop Arthur Hervey, wrote an open letter on 2 October 1885 suggesting that ‘all Christian subjects of the Queen had a duty of special prayer to Almighty God that He will be pleased to guide the minds of the Electors to make such a choice of representatives as shall tend most to the glory of God, the honour and welfare of our Sovereign, and the happiness of the people.’ In His view Parliament was responsible for establishing ‘peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety’ and the ‘welfare of all people.’ In asking people to pray, as well as to vote, he made it clear that whilst people would have different ‘political leanings’ that they needed to come together to pray for the ‘peace and happiness of the nation at large’.
I think we all know that this General Election before us now will similarly be critical in helping to determine the future of the United Kingdom – at least for the immediate future. In writing this article I am therefore seeking to follow Bishop Arthur Hervey by reminding us all of the responsibility we have to pray for our country and to work with all people for the welfare and the well-being of everyone.
With my prayers and very best wishes,
The Right Revd Peter Hancock