So. In two hours time I will be attending my first ever appointment at an M.P.’s surgery. I have 15 minutes to talk to him, and I have decided to talk about the plight of carers – particularly young carers, give him my book ‘Dog Ears’ and talk about the awful effect of welfare ‘reforms’ and assessments on the disabled. I may give him ‘Girl with a White Dog’ and ask him to think about the role of the press too. There’s a lot to fit in to 15 minutes.
I am feeling rather nervous because of the dangers: The danger that this is all some sort of ego trip for me, something to tweet about (and blog about!) but won’t make any difference The danger that I will lose my temper and wave my arms about & make some sweeping generalisation which will make my MP not respect what I am talking about. Or that we have a stand up row. The danger that I do the opposite, that I will be intimidated and not say anything. Or apologise for nothing and undermine my own arguments. If anyone reading this prays then please can you say a prayer for this meeting? If you don’t pray please send kind thoughts/vibes. I am going to pray that the Holy Spirit is with us and will create an atmosphere of Peace. I am going to pray that the Holy Spirit will give me courage but also self control, and also will bless my Conservative M.P., whose party I do not agree with but who has given up his morning to see constituents and is very hard working.
My husband believes strongly that nobody should feel they have to say who they voted for – that the right to keep who you voted for private was hard won and should be treasured. I think he is right. But for me, I would like to say something. I notice on my twitter feed lots of swearing and lots of judgemental stuff about anyone who voted Conservative. I did NOT vote Conservative this last election. This time last week I was preparing to go to the London radical Booksellers’ Fair and be a shortlisted author for The Little Rebels Award. Pretty left -wing, eh?
But the election before last I DID vote for my MP. I live in a safe Conservative seat, a constituency with a very large Conservative majority and I didn’t believe my vote would make any difference to whether he was voted back in or not. I was angry with New Labour about Iraq and the way that they didn’t listen to anyone, and I wanted them to see one less Labour vote to wake them up. (you can see why I need prayers!) I also felt that my MP was extremely hard working and was v grateful to him for campaigning in support of our local hospital. I saw him (but didn’t speak to him) in the congregation at mass on Sundays and knew he took his job and duties very seriously. I didn’t expect Labour to lose the election. I felt very shocked. My MP was returned as expected, and I knew that my vote hadn’t made a difference, but I felt guilty. So for five years I have been writing to him every now and then. I’ve written to him about the proposed sell off of the forests, about asylum seekers, the Middle east – I can’t really remember what I have written about, but I know he always answers in detail and we rarely agree. I have also written to him when my elderly dad was treated really badly and left in pain in our local hospital A & E and he was brilliant about it – really supportive. I have had a brief discussion with him on the doorstep but never a proper conversation. I don’t know if he connects my letters with my face, but I know that I have never spoken to him at church because this is sacred space and I feel he works very hard all week and needs to be left alone when praying.
I feel much better having said that. I haven’t wanted to be exposed to online abuse about once having voted Conservative, but I have felt a hypocrite these last years. I also really want to stop this demonisation by some on the Left of anyone who votes for a party we don’t agree with. Speaking as someone who has just joined the Labour party, I don’t want to say people who didn’t vote for them were stupid or callous or racist. Even those who voted UKIP (see ‘Girl with a White Dog’ for my opinions on racism) do not deserve contempt. Policies can be worthy of contempt – people, never. And if you despise voters, why should they change their mind and be persuaded by you to vote otherwise? My MP is genuinely trying to do good. I now so utterly disagree with his party that I could not vote for him, but I still respect him.
And I also feel immeasurably better about Politics because I have joined Christians on the Left. Since I joined Labour I have been feeling very depressed. I was worrying that really, temperamentally, I am more of a soft Conservative – a respectable church-going law abiding person who wants to do good. This may sound silly, but I really am shocked by a all the swearing and hate and bile and often openly anti-religious stuff that some people who identify as Left in the twitter sphere seem to indulge in. I believe in God. I pray. I think religion has brought great blessings to the world and I object both to it being hijacked by extremists and jeered at by ignorant educated people. I was beginning to feel that I had no place in the party I had joined. But the trouble is, I feel passionately about public services. I don’t agree with the NHHS being privatised. I think workers’ rights are essential. I knew that even if temperamentally I might be like a certain type of Conservative, my political beliefs seem to be left wing. And this was confirmed again when I went to the Little Rebels award last week and met such wonderful people (like Natalie Bennet) who were just kind and brave and public-spirited and non-materialistic and lovely and whose political beliefs seem to have integrity and congruence with who they are. Then someone told me about Christians on the Left and I felt this huge sense of relief. I can’t wait to get involved. No one will jeer at me for praying – in fact, prayer is at the centre of it , and hopefully nobody will think it is Ok to demonise those in other parties. .
So, to cut a long story short. I am going, as a Roman Catholic Christian on the Left, to visit my Catholic MP and I am nervous I will lose my temper and say nasty things or be too shy and not speak at all, so I need God’s help. I want to go as a religious duty because I believe that Jesus is in each person, and some people, like the disabled or sick or young carers, are suffering more than others in my country at this time and I must use my education and gifts to speak out for them. I need prayers because I can easily burn out and I am a quiet writer, rather than a politician.
I also know that giving up 15 minutes to talk to an MP I know is a good, hardworking man isn’t that big of a deal and I was wondering if you, whether you are religious or not, might consider doing the same and talk directly to your elected representative, whether you voted for him or her or not, about young carers, or those on benefit sanctions, or library closures or whatever you care about ? It was easy to make the appointment – I just rang his office. Which reminds me – it is exactly an hour’s time and I am not dressed yet. Bye!