Not much hope at 'Charities Parliament' event

By Jonathan Bartley
June 22, 2009

Despite its stated aim of 'Restoring Hope' the line up for tonight's 'Charities Parliament' event ('Finding Hope: Restoring Trust in Politics and National Life') doesn't fill me with much. In fact it is a bit hope-less. It seems to be yet another example of the religious world talking to itself and making itself feel like it is making a difference.

It follows on from the MP's expenses scandal, and comes in the context of the subsequent debates about constitutional reform. It also comes at a crucial time, as we are already seeing the main parties attempting to counter the moves for reform.

The event comes in a 'Question Time' format, which would be a great idea in theory if it allowed some creative thought to come forward with some fresh ideas – particularly from those who are really involved in the issues. But a quick look down the panellists made my heart sink. No disrespect to those on the panel who are fine people, but where are the Christians at the cutting edge of thinking on these issues of integrity, transparency, accountability, democracy and constitutional reform? (and there are lots of them about!). Where are the figures who are actually doing the work on restoring trust in public life?

Tonight's line up is: Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent at the Times, Andy Reed MP and Alistair Burt MP, Michael Nazir-Ali (Bishop of Rochester) and David Landrum (Senior Parliamentary Officer for the Bible Society).

Ruth Gledhill is lovely, but why on earth is she on a panel dealing with political questions? The two MPs as far as I am aware have done nothing on the issue of constitutional reform. There is no sign of any Lib Dems who to their credit have done a lot of thinking around these issues, let alone a Green or other minority parties which people turned to at the European Elections. The bishop is an unelected member of the House of Lords with an interest in resisting reform, as well a being a well known defender of establishment. Why not an independent cross-bencher? The 200 cross-benchers already model a different and creative way of doing politics (and there are plenty of Christians amongst their number). The Bible Society's involvement remains a mystery (unless they are sponsoring perhaps?).

It's such a shame given that there is so much going on with groups like Open Democracy and the private members bill on a Citizens Convention currently before Parliament. There is a new campaign for democratic renewal about to start next week too. Ekklesia has been working with many such groups and supporting them. We commissioned a poll at the height of the expenses scandal which made the front page of the Independent on Sunday, and have also written a paper on constitutional reform and new ways of reimagining politics.

There is clearly lots going on that the Charities Parliament could draw on. There is merit in getting Christians interested in the issues. But the churches it seems will merrily continue talking to themselves whilst others carry on with the public debate.

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