Visions of the Good Society: Stephen Timms (Labour)

Good-Society-logoWe’re working with churches across the UK to share visions of a Good Society – first at events on Church Action on Poverty Sunday, and then by holding General Election hustings events based on the churches’ Vision of a Good Society.

By sharing our own vision, we hope churches can challenge politicians to talk more about their own positive visions, and less about short-term problems and negative issues. So we’ve asked Christian politicians and candidates of all parties to share their reactions to our 2020 Vision of the Good Society, and talk about their own aspirations.

To avoid any bias in our presentation, we’ve selected the order of these guest blogs at random. This third one is by Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham and chair of Christians on the Left.

People often warn against mixing up faith and politics.  Churches entering political debate, especially in the run up to a General Election, is surely asking for trouble.

Christians on the Left takes a different view: that faith in Christ is an excellent starting point for politics, perhaps the best there is. We would like much more thinking along the lines of the 2020 Vision: reflection on the part of believers about the goals of our society and the changes we need in order to achieve them. Religious faith inspires crucial values: responsibility, solidarity, patience, compassion, truthfulness. The churches can contribute powerfully to a new vision commanding wide support, and so to a renewal of our politics.

In his book Surprised by Hope, Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham, wrote: “People who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”  Remarkable examples are all around us. The most remarkable is the food bank movement – almost entirely church-based – which provided food for over a million people in the past year.  Most have been forced to a food bank by a benefit problem.  It has turned out in today’s Britain that it has been the churches which – uniquely – have had both the motivation and the capacity to address the sudden upsurge in hunger.

Among many other examples are debt counselling; youth work, most of which is now undertaken by churches; homelessness support; and street pastors. Through serving, churches are forming a unique perspective on the realities in their communities. In the 2020 Vision, that informs the political debate about changes the next Government needs to make.

As Shadow Employment Minister, I particularly welcome the Vision’s opening affirmation that “a good society is one where every person has the chance to work”.  It quotes the 1997 Churches Enquiry into Unemployment and the Future of Work on which the incoming Labour Government built its New Deal. Labour’s manifesto for the coming election will include Job Guarantees for young people out of work for a year – building on the success of the Future Jobs Fund before 2010 – and for older people out of work for two years. The Guarantee will be carefully planned and costed for delivery throughout the next Parliament.  It’s an example of the 2020 Vision being reflected in concrete policy.

Sometimes people in churches feel they can’t make much impact these days. The evidence suggests otherwise. It was the churches – first in the Jubilee 2000 campaign, then in Make Poverty History – who built a political consensus around the UN target of 0.7% of GDP for the international aid budget. The target was set under the last Government but delivered under the current one. The churches’ vision achieved this rare example of all party support for a contentious goal. We need more where that came from!

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