As the great political realignment takes shape, there are huge expectations of the Johnson administration and we are not going to make a wish list here. But change must be bottom up as well as top down. It is important not to default to the patrician tendencies to centralise. Government can do much to empower and enable communities to take responsibility at local level. Here we share two thoughtful propositions, one from Philip North, the Bishop of Burnley, and another from Fr David O’Malley ODB, Vocations Director of the Salesians UK.
Dear Prime Minister:
Congratulations on the election victory. Your majority makes you the most powerful PM for years and you must now be reflecting on how to use that power.
Christians are soon keeping Christmas, celebrating how in Jesus, God humbled himself to take our human form and thereby set us free. God willingly gave away his power in order to empower us. That strikes me as a very good principle for government. Might I invite you to ask not, ‘How can I use all this power? But, ‘How can I give power away in order to empower others’?
- Take local government, once a great source of pride in the north, still capable of huge enterprise and imagination, yet stripped bare and hollowed out by years of austerity and savage cuts. Let’s re-empower local government, invest in it properly, allow as many decisions as possible to be made at local level and re-engage local people in making the decisions that impact on their lives.
- Take local leadership. For years urban and estates communities have been stripped of leaders as places of association have declined and local entrepreneurship has been replaced by centralism. Why not work with churches, faith groups and the voluntary sector to raise up a new generation of strong, local leaders from unlikely places who can speak up for and lead change in urban areas?
- Take transport. Central control has been a disaster in the north where appalling public transport and crowded roads are strangling economic growth. Let’s invest as much in transport in the north as in the south and allow local people to make the decisions about where that investment is best made.
The battered state of national politics shows we need to re-imagine the relationship between government and people. Give away power, empower others and the gifts of countless people can be unlocked.
To the Johnson administration:
The significant majority created by the landslide victory of the Conservative party has opened up a more stable period of government for the next five years. The British people have always favoured the election of a strong and accountable government. You therefore have an opportunity to shape our country with a freedom that few administrations have had over the last few decades.
I would like to suggest that we need to move from individualism towards a communitarian approach to life and planning. There is a spiritual emergency within each individual and a fearfulness about the meaning of our lives, a tendency to use buying and social media as pain killers. We are less trusting of our neighbours and pessimistic about our future and purpose. These symptoms are projected on to our attitude to the environment, crippling our lives and the life of the planet. Your administration can help us move forward on that journey by:
- Continuing to insist on the potential of the individual to transform the world but broaden that creativity to include not just profit and loss but also creativity that includes “rewiring” our society into a more energised and interdependent community.
- Encouraging us to re-connect with the planet from which we are grown and to foster spiritual reflection about the mystery and inter-connectedness of life. The party should use their traditional links with religious groups to help us to realise the some of the non-rational and spiritual aspects of being human.
- Rediscovering the power of vocation since, as Sir Ken Robinson notes “finding your passion changes everything.” If we don’t know ourselves, because we are buried under consumerism and anxiety, we will never know what we can do and what power we have to change the world. Vocation joins up the social network within which we live with the inner world of our hidden potential. Vocation heals the mortal wound that is the root of our environmental and spiritual emergency.
Fr David O’Malley ODB