A Together for the Common Good conversation event - Winchester (16/6/15)

 

A 'Together for the Common Good' conversation event took place at Winchester University, 16 June 2015

A new research centre, at the University of Winchester - TRiPL – Theology and Religion in Public Life,  held a conversation event sparked by the book Together for the Common Good: Towards a National Conversation.

Responding to the book’s challenge to promote a national dialogue, more than 100 people attended a panel discussion with two contributors to the book, Lord (Brian) Griffiths of Fforestfach, and Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy; along with two ‘critical friends’, Dr Dave Landrum, Director of Advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance and Jenny Sinclair, founder of ‘Together for the Common Good’. The discussion was introduced by Professor Andrew Bradstock, convener of TRiPL and a contributor to the book. After short inputs from each panellist (see report below), a lively discussion was chaired by the Bishop of Winchester, Rt Rev Tim Dakin.

To organise a similar event in your area, see below. 

Lord Griffiths spoke first, highlighting the need for our economy to be more inclusive. One way towards achieving this would be to reduce inequality, but the bigger challenge was to meet people’s needs by building more houses and creating more jobs. He pointed out that the UK had done far better on jobs creation than other European countries. Drawing on his chapter, ‘Markets and the Common Good’, Lord Griffiths said that pursuing the common good was about enabling the integral development of every person, which involved their being able to enjoy economic freedom, and to have the opportunity to work and to participate in their community, like what Edmund Burke called ‘little platoons’.

Tehmina Kazi, drawing on her chapter, gave examples of what a Muslim contribution to the common good might look like – including participating in interfaith projects and building coalitions within Islam to challenge extremism. Tehmina stressed that cross-community projects which prioritised social action were proving more effective at bringing people of diverse backgrounds together than ‘interfaith dialogue’. Transcending ‘left-right’ tribalism, such projects demonstrated a collective willingness to tackle issues at the heart of our society like social cohesion and public order. She said they are not tokenistic efforts to ‘show diversity’ but promote the wellbeing of the community.

Dave Landrum argued that civil society needs to be renewed as the site for discussions about the common good since this is where we live our lives together. While we face many challenges – the rise of an identity politics that is fast polarising society, growing inequalities and political elitism that are fuelling extremist solutions, the erosion of family life and solidarity by a consumerism which leaves the poor essentially ‘outside society’ – the common good agenda offers us new hope and vision for a public ethic informed by the biblical principle that ‘I am my brother’s keeper’. Dave said this offers the opportunity to move beyond talk of rights to a discourse of virtue, and shows us ways to live together with our deepest differences. It’s also fun because it focuses on real people and relationships not abstract ideologies and blanket solutions!

Jenny Sinclair said relationships and bridging divides are essential to build community – and described the work of her father, Bishop David Sheppard, his Roman Catholic counterpart Archbishop Derek Worlock and Free Church leaders in Liverpool a generation ago. Against the background of profound sectarian, industrial, political and cultural divisions they sought not only to bring communities together, but to meet with people on all sides to promote the ‘welfare of the city’. Mistakenly labelled as traitors by the ‘left’ and ‘statist’ by the ‘right’ they practiced a methodology of reconciliation for the the common good, putting aside their differences and focusing on the needs of the people of the city.

Moving to the present, Jenny talked of how in a highly individualised society where people define themselves by identity politics, we rarely encounter people who are different from us, and this leads to social fracturing and estrangement. She highlighted, as Jean Vanier’s L’Arche communities show, that to live together in our diversity, such encounters are the basis of community and can be transformative. She said the T4CG project was bringing people together to work alongside one another to become agents of change for the common good.

The event ended with a wide-ranging questions and further discussion, followed by a reception, with many of the guests buying the book saying they wanted to learn more and put the common good into practice.

Why not hold a conversation event like this where you live?

This is not complicated to arrange, and Andrew Bradstock, who organised this one in Winchester, would be more than happy for his template to be borrowed and adapted, and to help where he can (andrew.bradstock@winchester.ac.uk).

From Exeter to Liverpool, from Durham to Cambridge, from Oxford to the Isle of Wight – the book’s contributors and editors are based across the country – so events can be held anywhere!

If you would like to invite some of the book’s contributors to speak, please contact Ali Lyon, who can also advise you how to promote your event.

The book has chapters by Lord Maurice Glasman, Clifford Longley, Dr Jonathan Chaplin, Lord Brian Griffiths, Dr Jon Wilson, Tehmina Kazi, Professor Andrew Bradstock, Dr Anna Rowlands, Professor Esther Reed, Dr Patrick Riordan SJ, Phillip Booth, Sam Burgess and Revd Dr Malcolm Brown.

More information about the book, and a downloadable study guide is here http://togetherforthecommongood.co.uk/resources/the-book.html

Keep in touch with the Together for the Common Good project – sign up to their newsletter http://togetherforthecommongood.co.uk/get-involved/newsletters.html

The panellists in Winchester were:

Lord (Brian) Griffiths of Fforestfach, a board member of Goldman Sachs and former head of Margaret Thatcher’s Policy Unit at No 10;

Tehmina Kazi, Director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, film producer, and one of the BBC's '100 Women' in both 2013 and 2014;

Dr Dave Landrum, Director of Advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance and formerly Parliamentary Officer with Bible Society; and

Jenny Sinclair, founder of ‘Together for the Common Good’, a project inspired by the legacy of Archbishop Derek Worlock and her father, Bishop David Sheppard.