Monday, 5 October 2015

Labour calls for Churches to Speak Out!

It is a great privilege for Steve and me to go to the Party Political Conferences, as part of an ecumenical group of church leaders, with colleagues from the Baptists URC, Salvation Army, and Friends.  Steve went to the Lib Dem Conference in Bournemouth, and I am going for balance with Labour and the Conservatives!  This year it was decided we should also go to the SNP Conference – which is a first! Rachel Lampard, VP Designate, will be our representative.

Tuesday was a very busy day of timed meetings with MPs in the foyer of the Grand Hotel, Brighton, next door to the Conference venue, with lots of tea!  They were all very generous in giving us their time.
We met with Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, Cat Smith MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, Kate Green MP for Stretford and Urmston, Catherine West, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Ruth Cadbury, MP for Brentford and Isleworth, Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central, and Viendra Sharma, MP for Ealing Southall.

Need to tell our stories

I was surprised, and encouraged, that a key message that came out of our conversations was that the Labour party wants to engage with faith groups because they are a force for change. MPs said that the Churches are one of the few agencies that can speak out, and because they are involved with communities, they have individual stories to tell. That is what MPs need.  Even if an MP is passionate about an issue, they need to be able to illustrate it with case studies and examples. Then they can find other MPs who are interested, so they can force a debate.

Kate Green said, ‘we have got the policies – plenty of them – what we need is case studies of the context – e.g. stories of what the gender pay gap means for a real person.’
Views on Jeremy Corbyn as Leader

It was also interesting to hear their views on Jeremy Corbyn, especially as some said openly that he was not their first choice as leader. All were enthusiastic that he is making space for discussion and debate, and they felt a freedom for MPs to say what they really think.

Sunday Trading

An issue they felt strongly about was mobilizing opposition to the extension of Sunday Trading. The reasons they gave were
  • Grinding down shop workers
  • Taking time for children and families to be together - Cat Smith’s family are shop  workers and she told us that 5.00 on Sunday was the only time in the week her family were able to have a meal together.
  • Shift in culture and commercialization of values – ‘shopping’ is the only thing to do.
  • Which day isn’t important, but people need ‘down time’ to spend together
Climate Change

The Pope’s encyclical on climate change is really good and we need to publicise it.

They have great confidence in John Healey as Housing Minister. It is clear that there will be fierce opposition to the right to buy for Housing Association tenants.
Women and Equalities Our own (and only!) Methodist MP, Cat Smith, is the new Shadow Women and Equalities Minister. At the age of 30, she is passionate about Methodism and its contribution to the Labour movement, and I predict a bright future ahead!

Cat is concerned about equal pay, and the disproportionate impact of the loss of tax credits on women. She raised issues affecting young women, such as sexual harassment and body image as a result of social media. ‘It is what young women do to make a difference that matters, not what they look like.’
She wants to encourage more young women to get involved in politics.  I told her about 3 Generate, and said she would be a role model for young Methodists. She is very keen to do all she can – so come on – we need to invite her for next year!

What can the Methodist Church Do?
I was thrilled by the sense that the Labour Party really wants to work with the Churches, recognizing that we are ‘community activists’.

‘Telling our stories’ is one thing that we can and must do. These MPs have asked us to share individual case studies, that reveal the impact of policies on real people. Ruth Cadbury stressed, ‘these human stories need to come from the churches’.
We can only change attitudes by speaking out!

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