Rachel Burgin writes about a task unfinished in the Copeland by-election stating that CotL member Gillian Troughton 'is exactly what we have been yearning for in our MPs'. She calls on members to defy the odds and get behind Gillian.
“What on earth happened there?” That seemed to the be the immediate response to the selection of Gillian Troughton as Labour party candidate.
I don’t blame them. After all, the national media had all but decided that the outcome of the selection was a foregone conclusion. There was a “favourite” they said. And it wasn’t Gillian Troughton. But I wasn’t entirely convinced that this was based on any conversations with members of the Copeland Labour party.
There have been all sorts of stories swirling around in both the local and national media about the conduct of the Copeland selection. I don’t intend to repeat those rumours here.
I can tell you what Gillian had at her disposal. She had no campaign website, no mailshots, she had a handful of friends making a few phone calls and she was sending emails to the 473 members the old-fashioned way.
Neither Progress nor Labour First had any involvement in her selection campaign. The NEC selection panel was politically stacked against her. Despite being a trade union activist and shop steward for many years, she received no trade union endorsements. In fact, the only Labour affiliate to support her was Christians on the Left. “How to get selected” courses abound across the Labour movement. Every one of those courses would have told you that Gillian stood no chance in this selection.
But it is perhaps Gillian’s strength as a candidate that enabled her to overcome these odds. If you have served your church, your local schools and your community wholeheartedly for most of the last two decades, you will meet a lot of people. If you have been the person who organises the canvassing sessions and the leaflet drops, if you have served as CLP Chair and Secretary then you will know a good percentage of the party membership and if your political career has involved defeating the BNP and dislodging Tory councillors you have probably earned some grudging respect.
There is no “technique” to public service. It is a way of life, an attitude of mind. It lives to serve others, to take responsibility, to make an impact on our world. Gillian embodies these values in every sinew of her being. She is exactly what we have been yearning for in our MPs.
Not that Gillian would want us to make this campaign about her. The challenges facing West Cumbria would put even the most egotistical politician in their place. A new nuclear power station is planned that could bring up to 21,000 jobs to the constituency. The region has suffered several “once in 1,000 year” floods in the last decade and it’s difficult to put into words the impact of bridge collapses and road closures on a remote community where there really is no alternative route. Meanwhile the future of the West Cumberland Hospital is in doubt and travelling to the next nearest hospital is more than 40 miles on these same poor roads. The result of this by-election will determine how these challenges are addressed.
Some in Christians on the Left have suggested that Gillian’s selection was a miracle. “She had God on her side” they have said. It is not my place to doubt the power of the Almighty. What I will say is that history is littered with the stories of those who have achieved extraordinary things by simply serving others. We are active participants in the miraculous.
But we face a task unfinished and it drives us to our knees. Gillian faces extraordinary odds to get elected to parliament. The polls are against us, the political winds are blowing in the wrong direction and our opponents are flooding the constituency. Mobilising the national party to campaign in England’s most remote constituency would stretch even the most seasoned campaigner. And to make matters worse, the by-election is in winter in wet and windswept West Cumbria.
It falls to all of us who share Gillian’s vision and values to confront these challenges head-on. We know that we worship a God who promises to “level the mountains”. But we are not called to a passive faith but one with hands, feet and blisters. One that will push labour beyond the point of exhaustion. One that will cross mountains, hills and vales – and will endure the coastal Northern Rail services – to participate in God’s work in the world.
I call on all members of Christians on the Left to help in this work. Let’s write the pages of history with God’s hands.
O Father, who sustained them, O Spirit, who inspired,
Savior, whose love constrained them, to toil with zeal untired,
from cowardice defend us, from lethargy awake!
Forth on your errands send us, to labor for your sake.
I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Rev 3:8)