Living out a Strap-Line: “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society”

By Michael N. Jagessar

I had to make up to my family for spending my birthday at a Political Party Conference in Glasgow, even though it was that of the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems). From September 16-17, LibDemI joined other Free Churches’ Leaders (Baptist, Methodist, Salvation Army and Quakers) and staff advisors from the respective Churches on what is now a regular annual feature at the three main Political Party  (Autumn) Conferences. I continue to be impressed by the amount of energy, organisation, thought and appropriate briefings that the staff of the Free Churches put into this undertaking.

The aims of these visits and engagement include: an opportunity to meet politicians from the respective Parties, offer solidarity where appropriate, build relationships, offer a visible presence/support for the vocation of those involved in politics, to emphasise the significance of Christian engagement in politics and on the public square, and to bring to the attention of politicians some of the shared concerns of the Churches either to highlight issues or to influence policy making. These visits also afford Churches an opportunity to visibly work together (which always impresses politicians) and to also support Christians who are involved in the political life of their Parties.

Our gathering began with some brief introductions, briefing on the current conversations at the Conference, agreeing on how the Church leaders would share the moderating of the various meetings with MPs, and the key issues we will raise with them. In terms of the latter, high on our agenda as an entry point into these conversations were food, food-banks, sustainability, economy and defence. Later that evening, it was a very “tight squeeze”, as we shared in a meal at the Wee Curry Shop and in conversation with Lord David Shutt, a Quaker. As he has done over the years Lord Shutt offered us valuable insights from his broad and interesting Parliamentary experiences, especially on the ways/process of getting an item on the agenda of the Lords, as well as some of the current issues and challenges before the Lib Dems. 

Tuesday was an early rise as we headed towards the Kinning Park Parish Church (Eaglesham Place, Glasgow) for the Lib Dems Prayer breakfast. It was a very good turn-out, filling breakfast, good conversations with a diverse group of people, and a short presentation on “Political Christianity” by Duncan Hames MP who reflected on his Christian journey and the place of20130917_081448 integrity as a Christian on the “public square”. After a time of question and answer, the Revd Alison Tomlinson, former President of the Methodist Conference offered some brief words and the closing prayers. Reflecting on the presentation and reading a recent volume (Liberal Democrats Do God, 2013) published by the Lib Dems Christian Forum, I can sense both an urgent need and opportunity for intentional engagement with politicians on matters of faith/theology and politics.

The rest of the day saw us at the Conference Centre where we were able to dip into on-going debates, meet with MP’s, visit the exhibition hall, participate in workshops and engage in one to one conversations with participants and visitors. Most of time were spent in conversation with David Heath (Minister of State for Agriculture and Food – DEFRA), Sir Alan Beith (a Methodist Local Preacher and on National Security Strategy – Joint Committee) and Steve Webb (a committed Christian and Minister of State –Department for Work and Pensions). These were all lively, robust, affirming and encouraging conversations with a genuine appreciation of the affirmation, challenges and partnership (or potential ones) that Churches’ offer. The Lunch-time event I attended, sponsored by Carers UK, and titled: “Women’s work is never Done? Supporting the Sandwich Generation,” was a brilliant and engaging debate on the high percentage of women caring for families and both the need for better provision from government and employers, and for men to take more responsibility in this area.

In moving around on Conference, my “dog-collar” opened up very interesting conversations from people who had some church connection and from those who were just intrigued by the LibDem do Godpresence of a member of clergy at the Lib Dems conference. I even found some lapsed Congregationalists and Presbyterians whom I encouraged to visit their nearest United Reformed Church and recommended that they have a good read of Liberal Democrats Do God.

Reflecting on my brief dip into the Lib Dems Party Conference and following much of the debate on-line, the words of a member of the URC (to me) which I quoted in my last blog are more pertinent than ever. She had said to: “tell the politicians to ‘stick to the truth’, ‘make up their minds’, and value “integrity”. For the wonderful strapline of ‘stronger economy, fairer society’ to become incarnated these words must inhabit and shape political dispositions. For, voters quickly see through rhetoric such as “we must stay in government”!

1 thought on “Living out a Strap-Line: “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society”

  1. Pingback: The Church of England goes looking for ‘God-doing’ at the party conferences-and comes away impressed « God and Politics in the UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *