Bishop Eric Brown is Chair of the CitizensUK General Election Accountability Assembly.
Last Monday, I was one of over two thousand people that gathered in Methodist Central Hall for the CitizensUK Election Accountability Assembly. It has been my privilege to have chaired the charity for over 15 years, including in 2010, when David Cameron attended our last Assembly and said that together we could change the country.
CitizensUK is a network of 350 community organisations – largely congregations, such as lmy own beloved New Testament Church of God. We worked for two years during the run-up to Monday engaging hundreds of thousands of people in a conversation about the hopes and fears that they have for their families, and how government can better help working people get ahead.
In light of that honest effort by ordinary people of good faith it is frustrating, though perhaps predictable, that the event is often seen through partisan eyes, rather than with a view to the role of citizens in the public square.
At its heart, our work is about rebuilding the integrity of public life, bringing those affected by policy face to face with decision makers to have honest conversations, to see real commitments made and change delivered.
It is true that our members were disappointed that the Prime Minister could not attend, and keep a pledge to attend two assemblies in the life of the parliament which he made in 2010. But to set the record straight, this was the only pledge that he has failed to keep. We asked much of the Prime Minister, and we were delighted that under his Chairmanship the Coalition has delivered:
- An end to the detention of children for immigration purposes. Around 4,700 children have been spared the trauma of detention since 2010
- A cap on interest rates to curb usury and extortionate interest rates. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, will escape the payday lender’s debt trap
- The first urban community land trust will soon be open to business in the old St Clement’s hospital site in East London. Permanently affordable family housing will be a reality again in the East End, though to start with in very small numbers
- And the first Whitehall Departments have started going Living Wage. This is the face of a recovery for all, working families left genuinely better off.
None of the press reports mentioned the standing ovation that Sajid Javid received when he entered the hall on the authority of the Prime Minister, or the thunderous applause when he shared his family’s story of building a new life here in Britain.
We take public life seriously. Democracy is damaged when no-one is held to account, but damaged, too, when no one is thanked for change delivered. No one is served by the lazy narrative that speaks of politics in the gutter, and would leave our hopes for our communities and families there along with it.
Our purpose, our driving will is to better organise communities to empower them to strike real and accountable relationships, first with each other and then with those with the power to affect their lives. The measure of this is in promises kept, and change delivered.
The record is clear. To date, the relationship between CitizensUK and the Conservative Party is very real and productive. We hope this continues to be the case over the next five years whatever happens in the Election. Our own manifesto calls for:
- Addressing the crisis in social care by working to make sure everyone has access to a named, trained, reasonably paid carer with enough time to care
- Ending the indefinite detention of migrants for administrative convenience, 800 years on from the signing of the Magna Carta, at a public expense of £164 million a year
- Continued championing of the Living Wage by the Prime Minister with full public sector implementation and annual Living Wage Awards
- The creation of a Community Finance Foundation, capitalised by FCA fines, to continue the drive to financial inclusion
- And a working relationship of mutual respect with whoever is Prime Minister.
My faith has rarely been in one political party or another. My Christian faith imparts me with a vision of the Kingdom come, values of dignity and responsibility. It is around those values that our alliance is built.