Rowan Williams: Don't let this election be based on fear

From an open letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the leaders of the main UK political parties
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The Independent Online

Despite the best of intentions, election campaigns can quickly turn into a competition about who can most effectively frighten voters with the prospect of what "The Others" are going to do. Regrettably, there seems little reason to suppose that the forthcoming general election here will be immune from such temptation. Indeed, it already looks as though familiar anxieties over terrorism, asylum and immigration, and crime, are going to feature prominently in the contest.

Yet, like a lot of other people, I suspect that voters don't make up their minds primarily on the grounds of fear, and that this aspect of campaigning, while it certainly grabs headlines, may not be especially decisive. The technique is a bit too transparent and usually too over-the-top to be taken wholly seriously.

But it is certainly true that fear tends to drive a fair amount of the surrounding public argument and policy. I don't for a moment dispute the evil of modern terrorism or the need to combat it vigorously; but the problem with all the areas I mentioned is that fear makes us look first for defences - and for reactive, damage-limiting solutions. And the difficulty then is that such solutions can put deeper interests, rights and needs, individual and collective, at considerable risk.

I don't envy the task you and your colleagues face in trying to formulate responses to the real challenges here. But I hope you will seek to do so in ways that do not simply allow our fears to go unexamined.

Because there are things that really should make us tremble - rootlessness and alienation among some of our urban youth, the degradation of the environment, the downward spin into chaos and violence of large parts of the poorer world. And these simply don't lend themselves to defensive and short-term solutions.