The Premier website have published a conversation they had with Ed Miliband about Church, young people and political engagement. Its a fairly interesting read, even if it smells of a General Election being just around the corner.
It’s election year. After a term which saw youth engagement with Westminster (though not ‘politics’ as a whole) drop, and youth unemployment rise, it might be the most important election for young people in a generation. Premier’s Marcus Jones chatted exclusively to leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, to discuss the Church, young people and political engagement.
MJ: You’ve previously mentioned that you don’t share the Christian faith. Would your government do God?
EM: I think what’s important for me is the word respect. Respect for different faiths, respect for people who aren’t religious; respect and tolerance are the important watch words. I’m not going to claim that I do God, but what I do think is important is that sense of respect. I have huge admiration for so many people in the Church and the work they do. I believe in social justice, a more equal, fairer society, and I see those values played out among so many people in the Christian community who worship God, and spend so much of their time ensuring people have better lives, whether through food banks, volunteering in the local community or youth work. I have huge admiration for that, and I’d be a Prime Minister who had huge admiration for that.
MJ: How important is the role of the Church in society?
EM: I think there are so many injustices in our society. If I think about the groups that I was with earlier this week – XLP and their work with young people, Open Doors and their work with refugee communities, the Trussell Trust who run so many of the food banks in our country – in their different ways, the extraordinary organisations are multiplied thousands of times over by so many people, who in their own communities are doing good work, decent work. Just thinking about the food banks, for example, it’s not just that the Trussell Trust has drawn attention to the plight of so many people who can’t afford to properly feed themselves, but they’re also helping people on a daily basis. That’s just one example of what so many Christians around Britain are doing.
MJ: You also mentioned XLP, working with young people across London and across the country. They are dealing with young people who are turning away from education, turning away from offers of employment to survive in a different way. How concerned are you for the state of young people?
EM: I am worried about young people. I think many people in their generation will be thinking, what’s my generation got against them? Because it seems like, whether it’s in relation to educational opportunity, employment, or housing, they feel like they’re getting a raw end of the deal, that the opportunities available to my generation aren’t available to theirs. Then we’ve got some young people, and XLP works with them, who are really at the sharp end of that; maybe they’ve been excluded from school, or they’ve found themselves getting into trouble with the police, and I think that’s such a waste of potential for our society, such a cost to our society. I was talking to Patrick Regan who runs XLP about some of the ways to deal with this and he was emphasising the importance of mentoring, and what lots of people can do in terms of mentoring. It’s not easy. There are no straightforward solutions, but I think there are things we can do, to give hope and opportunity back to young people.
MJ: Is it the role of the Church to fill gaps they see, or should it be the government stopping those gaps from appearing in the first place?
EM: It’s a complicated question; government’s got to do its bit. It shouldn’t abdicate its responsibility; it should be more of a partnership. So what XLP would say, is that they want to do the work, but they need the funding in order to do it. It’s more like partnership and less like government just withdrawing and saying we can’t do anything, we’re going to leave it to you to pick up the pieces. Voluntary organisations and volunteers will always play a role in our society, the question is: where does the government’s role end, and the volunteers’ role begin?
If I was being cynical, I would suggest that Ed Miliband is trying to court a Christian vote.
If I was being cynical.