One of the privileges of being Assembly Moderator is the insight it gives into the lives and ways of other people and other communities. This is no more true than in the visits to the Political Party Conferences as part of the Free Church Leaders delegation. I was at the Labour Party Conference inManchesterthis year and it was interesting to compare it with the experience of 2011 when the party was still somewhat subdued following the election in 2010. The delegation meets on the Monday evening and has already received briefings about the MP’s we are likely to meet and the issues (inequality was this year’s theme) which are uppermost. These briefings are prepared by members of the Joint Public Issue Team as well as colleagues from the Salvation Army and the Quakers. Some of this same team of people are in attendance throughout the conference, making all the practical arrangements and taking part in discussions from their very knowledgeable basis for which we are all grateful.
On Tuesday morning there is a Prayer Breakfast in this case organized by the Christian Socialist Movement. The subject was ‘Can Growth Be Green?’ and we heard from TEAR Fund and Cafod staff about how climate change is affecting people in poorer countries. We also heard from MP’s and aid agencies about a new campaign centering on the notion of ‘enough’. I led the prayers on this occasion and of course concentrated on the theme, thinking particularly about our interdependence one with another.
The remainder of the day was spent in conversation with a number of MP’s. David Lammy, with his passion for the role of fathers in families and concern that communities need resilience. His comment that the church needs to be more distinctive in the world was certainly thought provoking. Hilary Benn, who demonstrated a real concern for the widening gap between rich and poor as he sees it in his own constituency inLeeds. Stephen Timms who has a responsibility for developing the party’s links with faith groups and Paul Goggins who is well known within the church as a former National Co-ordinator of Church Action on Poverty and who has lost none of his enthusiasm for being a part of a just society.
In the afternoon we were able to listen to ‘that speech’ and observe at first hand the skill of the leader in the method of delivery. Whatever you may think of the content there was no doubt that speaking for 65+ minutes without a note was impressive, now what is needed are good, sound and honest policies to turn that ‘performance’ into a meaningful way forward for an increasingly divided society.
Later in the afternoon we spoke with Jack Dromey and Kate Green and in common with others during the day we heard more about policies which might deal with changes to benefits rule, housing problems, the economy and much more. We also heard how the churches are valued for their contribution to society as well as how we might better influence the political process if we were prepared to share our knowledge of the problems of individuals and of communities. It is quite clear from these exchanges that we must not be afraid of getting involved in politics even if it feels a rater scary place to be.