How not to let politicians off the hook

By Niall Cooper
18 Sep 2009

The next few months - up to the General Election on, or before May 2010 – present a major challenge and an opportunity to those of us within the faith communities and civic society more generally who have a commitment to the poor and marginalised at home and abroad, to broader questions of economic and social justice, to the future of democracy and, indeed, to the future of the planet itself.

Are we prepared to speak and work together?

Are we willing to offer leadership and a space for people in our churches, mosques, synagogues and wider communities to find common cause – to hold our political representatives, and those who would seek to represent us – to account for their actions and future actions?

Are we willing to create a common platform that brings together people passionate about climate change; people passionate about fixing our broken democratic system; people passionate about tackling poverty at home and abroad?

Or will we remain a cacophony of competing interests, intent only on peddling our own particular causes (worthy as they are)? A babble of campaigns and coalitions – all seeking to mobilise our ‘own’ supporters to organise ‘our’ own hustings and town hall meetings and sign up for our ‘own’ e-campaigns; all seeking to get our own five minutes on the Today programme; all seeking to catch the attention of parliamentary candidates and party managers…

This road leads nowhere. As the election draws nearer, the cacophony will grow ever louder and ever less effective. The total of our endeavours will amount to far less than the sum of our individual parts, as our still small voices serve only to drown each other out.

Parties and their machines will continue to set the agenda and the chance for accountability will be lost. We will have let the politicians off the hook – and worse still – we will have failed our own constituencies who deserve and demand better.

Those of us who are Christians (or other people of other faiths and of‘good faith’) are selling our traditions short if we reduce them simply to a cacophonous shopping list of ‘issues’ – from development to homelessness; from climate change to electoral reform. Is climate more important than jobs? Are people struggling to make ends meet at home more or less deserving than people in poverty overseas?

Surely we have more to say than this? We have a powerful narrative which says that it is society’s obligation to care for and uphold the rights of the poorest and most marginalised, at home and abroad; to care for the planet and its future; to work so that all may be included and to seek to build democratic institutions which represent the will of the people to whom they are accountable.

It is this which unites us. It is this which gives us our power. So let us create a common platform – at least for the next six months – built around our core values and broad initiatives:

* Care for the planet and our common global future – Stop Climate Chaos: http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/

* Protection for the poorest and most vulnerable in times of economic hardship – Get Fair: http://www.getfair.org.uk/

* Restoring faith in politics and renewing our democratic institutions – Power 2010 (formerly Real Change): www.power2010.org.uk/

These imperatives provide an opportunity to lay aside the cacophony, but not our passions, re-affirm our shared narrative (and shared future), and hold the politicians to account.

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© Niall Cooper is national coordinator of Church Action on Poverty and a member of the executive committee of Get Fair.

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