I recently made my debut writing for Christians on the Left. You can read my first column, about the recent Greenbelt-hosted debate on the forthcoming general election, here:
Haydon Spenceley writes from Greenbelt where the motion “This House Believes The 2015 Election Will Make No Significant Difference to the Future of Britain” was being debated. Haydon reminds us of the importance of the coming election and that however broken the system, it is better to be involved.
Greenbelt is traversing its third afternoon in the beautiful surroundings of new home Boughton House (beautiful, that is, aside from the molehills, but I think that is a particularly wheelchair user-centric concern). A heartening huge body of people have gathered together around the motion “This House Believes The 2015 Election Will Make No Significant Difference to the Future of Britain”. Arguing for the motion are Louise Donkin of SPEAK and Martin Newell of the Catholic Worker Network. Their opponents in this gladiatorial contest are to be the Labour MP Gavin Shuker, and Pippa Morgan of the Lib Dem Christian Forum. It is noteworthy that the Conservatives are not represented, in spite of repeated requests to provide a contributing speaker. One can only speculate as to why, but the lack of a viewpoint from the Tory side of things is arguably to the detriment of the otherwise-useful conversation which unfolds. Interestingly, the room is split fairly evenly when asked to vote on the motion at the beginning of the debate. Will things change?
Arguing for the notion, Louise and Martin speak with considerable and commendable passion and insight, both offering radical alternative approaches to the future for British politics and for Britain as a whole. Their contention, again and again, is that the systems which British politics and British life, indeed, are built on, are intrinsically broken and need to be not just brushed up, but renewed, remade and begun again. The strong suggestion of the cancelling of Trident as both a peace-facing and economically sensible move gains considerable acclaim. Perhaps less so the suggestion of the eradication of the armed forces.
On the other side of the debate, Gavin and Pippa are, perhaps unfairly, forced to defend the notion that elections and conventional democracy bring about change and a better future. Both sought to encourage and challenge their listeners to engagement over and against apathy. When challenged by a question on the possibility of eradicating “the whip”, Gavin spoke forthrightly of the many changes and developments which have been good for all which have come about because of parties working to enforce their whip, and both Gavin and Pippa spoke well of the need for agents of change to be at the heart of the policy and decision making processes in political parties.
Without meaning to sound trite, it was inspiring to see the sincerity and integrity of faith of all four of the speakers on the platform (Ok, that does sound trite, sorry). There was a unity, even in disagreements over policy and process, between all the participants which can so often appear lacking in the heavily edited political discourse most of us are party to. Proof that Christian faith is not limited or contained to a particular party political ideology or set of policies, that the values of the kingdom which is come, and yet still to come too, transcend the archaic controls we attempt to place upon how we communicate ideas. We can agree, and disagree, robustly. We can cry out against injustice, we can dance upon it. We can accuse political adversaries of propagating it, but surely we will all be changed, all of us, without exception.
As the debate drew to a close and those in attendance were asked to vote once again, it became clear that a larger proportion of the room were convinced of the crucial importance of the coming election. Most of all though, it seemed that many of us had been convinced that, however broken our system might be, however much we relate to one another in a broken fashion, it is better to be involved, working and praying for redemption than to wash our hands of the time and circumstances we find ourselves in. Radical change is coming, we can be sure of that. We can only hope, work and pray that it might come sooner, that justice might flow as a mighty river, through our society, but this justice God’s justice, will come, finally. We can be sure of that.