Power2010, the coalition involving Ekklesia and others that wants to 'change politics - for good', says it is "amazed" at the huge response to its ground-breaking initiative to get the public writing to Church of England bishops, asking them to back House of Lords reform.
The appeal to the bishops (http://www.power2010.org.uk/faith) will receive further endorsement from an ICM opinion poll to be released tomorrow, which will show the widespread public mood for change, including among those identifying themselves as Christians.
It also coincides with a leak in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper today (14 March 2010) about plans to replace the House of Lords with a 300-strong, wholly elected Second Chamber, which will reportedly be unveiled by ministers in a key political move ahead of the general election.
The Power2010 letter-writing campaign to bishops (http://www.power2010.org.uk/faith) launched on 11 March and aimed at getting 10,000 personalised communications to the 'Lords Spiritual', who presently have automatic seats in Parliament. It is urging them to support a democratic Second Chamber and to become part of a great movement for reform, rather than stagnating as a relic of privilege.
But within 72 hours the 'target' for responses had to be re-set four times, such was the surge of public feeling about the issue. At present over 52,000 letters have gone to the 24 bishops and two archbishops who have automatically reserved places in an unelected House of Lords - with the current aim of 75,000 letters likely to be fulfilled in hours rather than days at the present rate of response.
The 'write to a bishop' initiative has involved a wide-ranging network of organisations and individuals - including the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, the Student Christian Movement, the British Humanist Association, and a number of established reform groups such as Unlock Democracy, Progress and Republic.
"We are amazed at the response to our initiative to get the bishops to back fundamental Lords reform," Power2010 Partnership Coordinator George Gabriel told Ekklesia today.
"Our poll tomorrow, the huge public response to Lords reform in our Power2010 pledge vote, the unprecedented success of this letter-writing campaign and indications that government ministers realise change is now inevitable - all this is combining into a real head of steam for a democratically elected Second Chamber," declared Gabriel.
The call for a fully-elected successor to the House of Lords came third in the 100,000 public votes recently cast in Power2010's process to find "the people's priorities" for political reform.
Simon Barrow, co-director of the think-tank Ekklesia, which has worked closely with Power2010 on the 'write to a bishop' initiative, said: "The unprecedented degree of interest shown in enlisting the Lords Spiritual to back change, rather than to be washed up on the shores of history, shows a real appetite for democratic renewal. The idea that 'people don't care', which has often been used to justify an outmoded status quo, is simply not tenable any more."
He continued: "When the ICM poll is released tomorrow we will find out just how many Christians, let alone other members of the public, think it is wrong for bishops to be given automatic and unaccountable seats in parliament - a constitutional set-up that leaves the UK in the inglorious company of Iran, and which now looks unsustainable as well as indefensible."
"In a plural society there are plenty of opportunities for people of faith to speak out and participate in public life on equal terms with others," said the Ekklesia co-director. "Reserved places and special privileges for the religious, and in this case the male leaders of one denomination from one part of the nation, are not just unnecessary - they also directly undermine the integrity of those who cling to them."
Barrow added: "It is worth recalling that the founder of Christianity explicitly told his followers to live by good example, to show special concern for those on the margins, and to reject ideas of claiming places at 'the top table' or 'lording it' over others. So the choice that now faces the Lords Spiritual is a basic Christian one; it does not simply mean being swayed by public opinion."
Power2010's letter-writing initiative can be found here: http://www.power2010.org.uk/faith