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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Saturday, January 10, 2004Doing Battle nonviolently John Battle MP in dialogue with The Bishop of Liverpool James Jones at a Church Action on Poverty meeting this morning. Seldom - if ever - have I been as impressed by a politician, for his sheer honest-to-goodness devotion to the task of working for the people he represents.
I probably do a disservice to other politicians saying that; but to focus on Battle - here's a man who seems to have stuck to his task since being elected to represent the folk of Leeds West in 1987, spending Fridays and weekends regularly visiting schools, projects, community groups and workplaces in the constituency. Here's a guy deeply involved in prison work and advocacy on mental health despite being told by political hacks that these are areas to be avoided if he wants to avoid being savaged in parliament.
The wealth of stories he shared about Leeds people's lives demonstrate the depth of his engagement with them. Here's a guy who obviously carries a tremendous amount of insight - and theology - in his head but has a way of talking which connects well at all levels.
Battle said things I shall dwell on for some time:
- the observation that the common good and common sense are very closely related;
- a phrase he heard from the lips of Steve Biko many years ago - that politics is about developing hope; the emphasis on developing hope - how do you do that? Somewhere in the answer is where faith and politics meet;
- the picture he planted of two places, close to each other in Leeds, which he knows well and visits regularly: Armley Prison, a "maelstrom - all of life is in there", and Kirkstall Abbey, an ancient place of peace and contemplation. Battle sees one of his tasks as bringing together what they represent to him - learning contemplation in the maelstrom;
- and a question which is very pertinent to the online 'community', one which he faces all the time being a representative of Leeds West but inhabitant of London half the year, spending as much time on trains engrossed in a book as in Leeds engaged with constituents: "Do I really live where I am?"...
A main theme which emerged from the two men's conversations was hope; Battle was the more forthright in his answer to a direct question, "Do you think the Iraq war has increased hope?" - "No." Violence never incresaes hope, he said. He's an advocate of nonviolent conflict resolution and obviously sees political engagement as a fine vehicle for that. Honest-to-goodness political engagement, that would be. I'm energised by his enthusiasm for the task.