This article first appeared as an email to Christians on the Left members. Following the amount of feedback we received from it, we decided it should also appear on this website.
I write this as I sit on a train. In the week after a Conservative general election victory I am ironically on my way to speak to people from all over the UK who run foodbanks at the national conference of the Trussell Trust. Will their work become even more vital in the next five years? I pray not. I fear perhaps yes. Many involved would rather be seeing systemic change, but don’t want to stop helping those in front of their faces who are in need.
As the dust from the election continues to settle, there will be many words written. Many will be knee-jerk reactions, many will be people vying for position, and some may even be wise, but I think it is good to take time to take stock. In our fast-paced 24hr news media world where our reactions tend to happen at the speed of Twitter, it is good to draw aside and draw on some deeper ancient wisdom.
One of the most profound images I saw last week was a cheeky Venn Diagram.
Whether it is fully accurate or not, it conveys something very important. Not everyone in the UK thinks the way we and our tribes think. Restricting ourselves to the echo chamber of social media confines us mostly to those we agree with, or unconstructive arguments with strangers. For a long time now at Christians on the Left we have been championing putting relationships back at the heart of politics, and I am proud to say that that is what I saw so many of our members doing as they campaigned. Meeting real people on real doorsteps, making their case with grace and truth. We must of course engage with social media, but not fool ourselves that it represents the total picture.
So I was attempting to draw aside this weekend to consult some deeper, slower, truth, when the words of the prophet Isaiah leapt off the page in my direction. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
It may not feel like it, but in the last few months especially I have had the privilege of connecting with people all over the UK, and there is a new thing happening. But it has its roots in something very old. There are definitely some streams in the wasteland. Our website has been bombarded over the last week with new people becoming members of Christians on the Left. And I have bumped into even more of them today. It would appear that the election result has woken many people up to the scale of the challenge we face in the UK. Making the case for a society that is focused on the common good has surely never been more important, as the tendency to vote out of fear or self-interest was displayed for all to see. No longer can we retreat to the easier job of just winning an election. We need to win the argument. How can we explain the complexity of a toxic global economic system when we have peoples’ attention for such short periods of time?
It’s the job of each of us in our own localities to make the case for a sustainable, just economy, because we can see clearly that those with the loudest voices and largest financial muscle are not going to be making it. But I am taking heart and hope from this ‘new thing’ that is happening. Many of these new members have been inspired by the SHOW UP campaign, and many are like the folks I am meeting today. They are running foodbanks, debt centres, and youthwork projects and as they encounter the challenging situations so many families find themselves in, they are asking the question “Why?”. And those answers are leading them to get political. I believe we need to get CotL ready for an even bigger influx of members. 15 years ago there were mere thousands of Christians involved in social action in their communities, which has has led to hundreds getting involved politically. But in the last few years tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Christians have been involved in social action, so I believe the numbers that will flow into politics will be proportionally increased. We need to be ready. Please help us welcome this new blood. Please consider setting up local groups, mentoring younger ‘recruits’, or giving financially to keep the logistics of CotL working. As I shared at the relaunch, this is not a quick fix. This is a ‘long obedience in the same direction’ that we are called to. It’s a mustard seed kingdom story, not a few quick days of good press coverage.
Christians on the Left bucking the electoral trend
I believe the results of some of our members point the way forward for Labour. Take for example the incredible performance of our chair Stephen Timms in East Ham. Many thought it would be impossible to increase a majority of 27,000, but it is now 34,000! I don’t think anyone has seen a majority like that in modern times. Gavin Shuker and David Lammy both substantially increased their majorities in Luton and Tottenham respectively. All three of these examples show how people being honest about their faith and how it drives their politics is something the public respond positively to. I believe the Labour Party is at its best when it is at its broadest, representing the spectrum of views we have on various subjects, rather than a narrow liberal agenda which does not appeal outside London. Otherwise we will continue to see the drain of votes away to UKIP and the SNP. The saddest moments of the last parliament for me were losing two of our Catholic Northern MP members who embodied this so well – Jim Dobbin and Paul Goggins.
To also note: I am glad to report that all of our other MPs who were standing have been safely re-elected.
Then with regards to new candidates, I am so pleased that Rachael Maskell (ex-vice chair of CotL), Cat Smith (ex-Office and Communications Manager), Dawn Butler, Neil Coyle and Conor Mcginn have all been elected. They will bring so much to Parliament.
Also many of our members have been elected as local Councillors, notably CotL vice-chair Helen Dennis in Southwark.
But I am deeply sad that some of our members missed out narrowly. Parliament will be much the poorer for the fact that David Drew, Suzy Stride and Nick Bent will not be there. Thanks for all your help and support for them during the campaign. It is not the last we will see of them! There were many others of our future candidates who narrowly missed selection for seats this time around. I am certain they will continue to shine and be selected for 2020. Watch this space!
I was proud to be part of an operation that had nearly 5 million conversations with voters, nearly all of them via the people power of unpaid volunteers, rather than by computer-generated direct mail funded by a rich donor. Labour may not always get it right (and neither will we) but I want to keep speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves. The city, the banks and the corporations have multi-million pound PR departments to do it for them (not to mention a swathe of powerful newspapers), so even if we don’t always get it right, I know whose side I’m on.
Be of good cheer. We know the end of the story.