Why labour neighbours is a good thing
CSM has been pioneering Labour Neighbours since its launch last summer. The aim is to provide a new expression of political activity, rooted in social action.
Labour Neighbours aims to revive Labour’s tradition of service and reciprocity, providing a connection to local communities and a gateway from community activism into local political campaigning. Time will tell, of course, how ‘successful’ this will be and what lessons can be learnt.
CSM sees Labour Neighbours as a central part of their activity and a way to create a movement out of our present structure and relationships. In the light of this we are currently talking to CSM members and friendly CLPs who are interested in holding Labour Neighbours ‘Action Days’ and perhaps starting their own projects. As far as we are concerned the more projects the better.
Here we reflect on a few reasons why Labour Neighbours is a positive development. Here are a number of reasons why.
Labour Neighbours is good for activists
Labour Neighbours is good for members of CSM and CLPs that might not like conventional Labour Party activity eg canvassing and leafleting. I actually, generally enjoy these things but acknowledge that not everyone does, indeed, not everyone can attend or enjoys going to Labour Party meetings. People might, however, enjoy clearing a pathway, engaging with a local youth group and decorating a hostel. By being engaged in enjoyable and meaningful activity people of course might get the taste for and confidence to develop their CSM or Labour party activity.
Labour Neighbours is timely
Whether you like it or not you cannot avoid the policy discussion on either the ‘Big Society’ or the ‘Good Society’. Whatever one thinks about these narratives, it is at least helpful to acknowledge that civic society is important and all political parties need to realise that it is not all about the market or the state.
Labour Neighbours builds connections with the community
In essence, connecting with local people and community groups is good and a welcome antidote to some of the more theoretical or introspective activities that political life can generate. I always learn something when I am engaged in some form of local activity, be it canvassing or taking the opportunity to serve a community. I have lived in Rotherhithe for nearly two years but, my knowledge of the area has been deepened by getting to know some of the churches in the area, the people who have been attached to these churches for a long time and the activities and concerns they are involved in. If all politics are local, then we need to get to know people and find ways to serve the community.
Labour Neighbours can help create a movement
CSM has been reflecting on what its identity and mission. In many ways CSM is the sum total of the activities of its members and their activities and outlooks. This is why the Labour Neighbours’ initiative is good for CSM, as it allows it to focus on being a ‘movement’. The inherent danger of left-sided politics is that the theoretical can dominate the practical. We – me included – love discussing politics, policy and ideas. This has a place and for a Christian, prayer and reflection is vital as well as mission and praxis. Yet, politics can easily become self-indulgent and intellectualised, so we lose our ability to connect with ordinary people, engage in a language that people understand and be authentic and genuine. Involvement with initiatives like Labour Neighbours should be both refreshing and keep our feet on the ground.
Labour Neighbours enables positive engagement
We are now living in a different era, some might say it is a post-Christendom era? or perhaps a Post-Secular era? Whatever it is it is not a post-Christian era. People are now beginning to realise that the Enlightenment settlement was not the final word and faith, though deeply personal is not private. As Christians on the missionary journey in politics we are to bridge the so-called faith-secular divide. Yes, this raises many questions about our assumptions and how engage. I have got this wrong on many occasions and will do in the future. With humility we need to acknowledge that as a church/Christian community we have not worked this one out yet.
In this context, I would submit, initiatives such as Labour Neighbours can model positive Christian engagement in politics. Yes, we are called to be prophetic in our posture and speak the truth to power but there are times when the desire to fulfil this calling can be either judgemental or fails to affirm what is good in the political realm.
Labour Neighbours is relational
The opportunity to serve our community and engage with long-term projects mean that in the process we can build relationships and learn from one another. These relationships have value in themselves as they are the stuff of human flourishing. People are to be valued for who they are and not seen as commodities to be used and traded for political or any other purposes. I would suggest that these openings can help our missional journey, they will enable us to discuss why we are Christians, in the first place with a passion for political involvement. People may ask why are we doing what we are doing? Our example should be the answer. One project at a time, one conversation at a time we can make a difference. We do need to think about the long-term. This is about giving and not expecting back and that runs against the grain in our culture and indeed our political culture. People are naturally distrusting of political parties, perhaps they always will be. But we can show this needn’t be true all the time.
Labour Neighbours opens up new ways to connect
It seems perfectly obvious that people need a different perspective of politics than the media provides or they have experienced. Whether we believe that taking about a ‘new politics’ is the way to do this, our Kingdom concern for hope and redemption means we cannot abandon the political system to decay and defeat. By making new connections hopefully we can foster a different perspective and experience of political involvement.
Perhaps, we have been too media focussed. The Labour Party become renowned for it, to its detriment. It is hard to see how in an information overloaded, 24-7 news age how ‘spin’ and focus on the media can be avoided. However, there is no reason why politicians and the Labour Party can view ways to connect with people and not just see the media as the primary arbiter of their message.