CSM at Labour Conference Part Three
FREE CHURCH LEADERS PRAYER BREAKFAST
37 local and national church leaders, MPs, members of the Brighton community and Labour Party members gathered together to pray for the economy. The event was chaired by Rt. Hon. Alun Michael MP with guest speakers Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms, MP and Dr Richard Vautrey, Vice-President, Methodist Conference. Members of various Christian denominations were present, including members of the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Salvation Army, the Catholic Church and the Methodist Church.
Stephen Timms and Richard Vautrey, each in his turn, discussed the importance of the involvement of Christians and particularly 'the Church' in politics. They highlighted the need for Christians to voice their opinions and engage policy makers at all levels in the decision making process.
We then had a really honest and solemn time of prayer, with petitions raised by many of those present and a humble closing prayer from Andy Flannagan, Director, CSM.
The prayer gathering was filmed by Baptist Union of Great Britain, so you can view video footage of the gathering by clicking here!
3rd ANNUAL FAITHS RECEPTION
The Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP, Treasury Minister for the Labour party, states that the Faith in Politics Shared Values Document is a strong basis for political work and how Britain needs to change. Faith is a good starting point for politics; in Labour we have seen that time after time. The reason is faith is the source that makes values work well. It is truth and compassion.
At least 77 people were in attendance to affirm that whilst our faiths are very different, we are willing to work together for the good of everyone within our communities. CSM Volunteer, Madeleine Jones shares her reflections from this event.
Even if you are not of faith, there is a basis of insights there and this provides a strong basis for progressive politics. The fact that faiths are different should not be ignored, but some values are shared.
Stephen says that he is a Christian and when he started to get involved in politics in East London he felt there was strength in shared common values for political work.
We believe in God, you believe in God, a Muslim in East London stated.
Heart and mind is important, says Andy Flannagan. Lobbying in heart is so very important. When Andy was in Bangladesh he felt guilty about the British government and the effect it had left. He feels we are asked to be in that difficult place as Christians. The slums in Bangladesh had such a deep effect on him that it enabled Andy to write the beautiful and emotive song, ‘Stop to stay long enough to share the cost’, which he sang to us.
Stephen Shashoua from the 3 Faiths Forum started off by stating that he strongly supports this event. The story of the 3 Faiths Forum was that it started three years ago because of mounting divisions between different faiths within communities. Interfaith hit the faith stream. The government gave a great deal of funding, but dialogue was not going to be enough.
3 Faiths Forum began working in faith schools bringing programmes that engaged young people to look at issues such as identity and faith in society. When young people said that they had not spoken to someone of a different faith, Stephen could see that divisions and ignorance exists. 3 Faiths Forum has reached 2,000 students, but schools are not enough. New models to engage university students have started. Undergraduate Parliamentors is a scheme where MP’s mentor students in trios whilst they take part in a social project. 100 students after this year will have gone through this programme. The Faith and Fashion programme is also available to students. It is programmes like these, which lead to a more connected and cohesive society, which engages faith and the wider society.
Stephen says that we have to go where people are. He also sees that faith communities need a reason to get involved. That it is not enough just to work for peace, but as a catalyst for wider involvement and to promote a wider change in society. From extreme right to Islamic extremists, we need to reduce these barriers.
Those who wish to divide are organised and are everywhere.
Interfaith is one of the most important of our time. Please join in and get involved, Stephen implores.
Rt. Hon. Alun Michael MP believes we tend to leave our faith outside the door when it comes to political work. But he sees that values come from our faith and faith comes from our values. These things make us who we are. If we can discuss our values and what the roots are, we can enrich one another.
We don’t want to nail the document to the door, but to start to reflect the values of refreshing the labour party and the longer-term values. The paper is a starting point that helps with discussion in faith groups and joint groups of faith.
What values do people of faith share? It is a starting point of a journey. Justice, equality, engagement, stewardship, integrity? We don’t want to be trapped in these words. Other words too can be used.
Alun encourages us to email and write to discuss the issues that come from this document. He says: if we start with the things that unite, then we can move onto the things that are more difficult. ‘Hear my truth and let me hear your truth’. The process of sharing is very important.
Shahid Malik MP, worked with Alun Michael for many years and has experienced the integrity that Alun has in abundance during this time.
At the Sure Cross event Shahid opened up the opportunity to have a discussion with the BNP members there. One woman asked if it was true that the Muslims hate Christians and want to take over the country. Another said that because of political correctness they felt they could not speak. Shahid, who encouraged open discussions, said he would bring 4 people from Tamil Town along to meet them. He did this and everyone got on well. The differences they thought they had were smaller than their similarities. The shared values aspect, people have different responses and the process to shared values is from mixing and discussing. The process Stephen sees as more important than the outcome. By celebrating commonality enables it to become more digestible.
We need to put tolerance in the bin and go beyond this to acceptance. If acceptance is there, it will sustain society.
Parmjit Dhanda MP, talks about a time when the area he was living in experienced water loss. People began knocking on neighbour’s doors asking, are you ok? Have you got enough water? They were helping one another out. Parmjit feels that the Shared Values document is very valuable as it brings people together. He remembers hearing one neighbour state during the time when they had lost their water supply, that “Some of my local Muslims came and gave me water”. Parmjit shares that service is a socialist principle of his faith.
Mike Catt from the Jewish Labour Movement explains that the Shared Values document looks at the commonality within different faiths. He feels that the identity for communities and the force for cohesion unite us all. Mike also says that challenging extremists in all faiths is very important.
Recently the Jewish community has been celebrating the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, which lasts for a 10-day period. During these 10 days, they seek out those they feel the need to repent to and to start a new leaf. It is a time for both introspection and it forces them to go out and apologise to others. It is a journey and our differences enrich us all. Mike shares that the Jewish people are about serving others and hospitality.
Mike also believes that there is nothing wrong in standing up and saying “I have this faith”. This document is so important.
Rt. Hon. John Denham MP, feels Faith in Politics: Shared Values document is very valuable and he hopes that the discussion will continue. John is serious about his engagement with faith communities and people from all faith groups. He worries that the government had an instrumentalist view, to sort out the problems. But he wants respect for his faith first. Living in a complex society means that what we do impacts on others and we need to develop neighbourliness. In the development of the Shared Values document, he also feels it is about the process not the outcome and that shared values change over time, therefore it is the discussion which is the most important aspect.
Interfaith week is coming up very soon and this is an important week - a step towards the values that are so necessary i.e. tolerance and respect. The 2001 riots were a very traumatic experience, but what we saw from this event was some places that might have had trouble, did not, and some that might not have had trouble in fact did. The places that did have trouble did not have contact with other faith leaders and little or no interfaith work. Therefore, even in a practical way, it is so important.
Alun ended the Faith Reception meeting by saying that discussion in local constituency parties is encouraged and he really hopes the valuable discussion today will continue after the meeting.
The contribution that faith groups are making, the Faith in Politics: Shared Values document and these important discussions that are beginning to take place, are giving us the chance to move closer together rather than further apart. Today has given us a challenge and another opportunity to “listen and learn”.
MORALS AND BANKING - IS THE FEELING MUTUAL?
Speakers: Alun Michael MP, Chair of CSM, Rachel Reed, PPC Leeds West and economist, Stephen Beer, Fund Manager of the Methodist Church and Political Communications Officer of CSM
56 gathered for this complex, interesting and important event. CSM Delegate, Jayne Buchanan, shares her insight with us.
The event, co-hosted by CSM and the Co-operative Party, was really food for thought as to how we can address banking. Thankfully, for those of us who are somewhat financially illiterate, a layman’s definition of mutualisation was required so that we could fully get au fait with the main solution offered for banking crisis. Rachel described mutual companies and organisations as those which are owned by their member, for example building societies, and who therefore pay out dividends to shareholders.
The main question that was posed first of all was do banking and morals go together? Mutualisation was represented as the tool by which banks could be made more accountable and ultimately more moral. Alun spoke against the casino capitalism of the last two decades which has witnessed banks gambling with people’s money and has meant that they are happy to chase “short term profits”.
Alun outlined the values that should be important among banks:
-and responsibility so that we can “bank on banks”
Alun used Fairtrade as an example of how business can have a moral compass and an ethical conscience. So why could this morality not extend to banks?
Rachel made an interesting observation that just a few years ago, a discussion about morals and banking would have been thought of as quaint because it just didn’t figure on people’s radar. However, nowadays, it is of course a highly topical issue.
Rachel advocated the separation of retail and casino banks and suggested that bonuses should be taxed at 60%. She also said that we could perhaps cut (the dreaded word turned for good) to the size of banks, thus creating more competition.
Stephen then took the floor and said that we have to actually practice Labour values. The key, he said, is not just to rely on hope, but to give this hope a practical manifestation.
The problem highlighted by Stephen is that there is a disconnect between society and banking, but that we must hold onto what really matters. The buzzwords of Stephen’s mutuality are trust, honesty and the common good, and I think that these are things that banking should really adopt, but also that the whole of society could benefit from.
Stephen did however point out that there is a slight directionlessness as to where we go next. There are however options in the mix. Rachel drew on the Prime Minister’s promise to give Post Offices more banking powers (which were well-received in the leader’s conference speech).
The important thing is that banks and big businesses approach these questions which have shaken the fundamental bed-rock of our society. And they must do this with integrity.
If the common good is a profanity among banks, Stephen said that we must at least persuade them not to act against it. Perhaps we can send out some extra copies of our magazine...
What became clear through this excellent event was that the old order and the old certainties have been done away with, and that we have to adopt a different mindset if the economy is become a force for good again.
I was glad to hear consumer discernment mentioned. All this talk about bankers’ greed and gambling left me with the question of whether this greed came from a greedy society, or whether this greed fed and fostered a greed culture. Is the influence of big business so large that our society’s morals have been tainted by a money-striving culture, or has a culture in which we are always taught to aspire to more financially allowed the greed of big business to go unfaltering or at least unnoticed while the sun was shining?
Banks of course have to look at their moral conscience, but I am left thinking that we all have a part to play and that many of us have bought into the bonus culture in however small a way. Yes, the credit crunch has challenged us and has been a terribly difficult time for many, and yes, banks must answer serious questions, but we all have a corporate responsibility to call for accountability, action and alteration in the mindset which has so gripped a nation.
ANDY FLANNAGAN IN CONCERT at the Hope Pub
with opening act David Hart of the band Lynfield
The Hope Pub is a very cool venue in the centre of Brighton with stage area up a short set of stairs. The room was packed by a very ecclectic crowd of people. Politicians like our Chair, Rt. Hon. Alun Michael MP, researchers and delegates were standing around with local Brighton teens and twenty-somethings seeking a bit of live entertainment. Conversations were great, with lots of laughter and the opportunity to meet a lot of new people in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
David Hart, lead singer of the band Lynfield, was up first with a set of catchy rock/pop/punk songs that stay in your head long after you've heard them. The set included the Band's current single Don't Leave Me Alone. Definitely worth checking out, so do click on the link.
Andy Flannagan, Director of CSM, then played and sang the night away with passionate folkie melodies. His songs focused on social justice and change and included great story telling. Andy's music has been described as "middle-aged folk music for the next generation". Definitely a great way to spend an evening with friends.
A great time was had by all.