It was a dreary, wet evening as I walked through the streets of London to St James’ in Piccadilly. You know the type portrayed in Hollywood movies, wet, grey, everyone hurrying to their destination under an umbrella, so it’s impossible to make eye contact with anyone even if you wanted to.
Even though it was a dreary evening and I hadn’t had a terribly good day, my heart raced just a little as I hurried into the beautiful church, a listed building, near Jermyn Street to attend a Mayoral Hustings, organised with the Evangelical Alliance. In attendance were church leaders: the Bishop of London, Pastor Agu Irukwu of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Reverend Yemi Adedeji of the Church Mission Society (CMS) and Pastor Nims Obunge of Freedom’s Ark in Tottenham, who was on Newsnight after the London riots.
It had all the things that get me passionate and excited, Christianity, politics and good old-fashioned democratic debate. We had politicians, church leaders and some civic-minded people to take part!
It started off tamely enough, with an introduction that reminded us that we were gathered in a church where people had been worshiping for over 400 years! Then the moderator got underway with the questions after he had introduced all the candidates (erroneously making Brian Paddick a London Assembly member, which of course he later corrected) the first question concerned the issue of inequality in London and pretty much set the tone for the questions and comments of the evening. There were frank and free discussions about concerns regarding equality, fairness, housing and the health of Londoners.
All the candidates gave the expected answers in line with their political persuasion and they seemed to agree with each other on the main issues, which made you wonder why the other candidates were running, why not let the incumbent carry on? But I digress into my own bias. The civil tone of the evening was even commented on at the end and I can’t help but wonder if the fact that they were in the church made them all more civil!
So it was lucky for me who enjoys a bit of controversy, that the moderator had a heckler!
After he asked his second question about whether the candidates agreed with the government’s recent budget cut for charities, which meant that they would have to raise 20% more money for the up keep of a listed building, such as the one in which we were gathered, a man from the audience (or congregation, if you prefer) shot up and challenged the moderator on why there wasn’t a complete representation of the candidates as the electoral commission defined a ‘hustings’ as one where all the candidates were present.
He was furious and quoted the Gospel of Mathew, where Jesus said,’Render to Ceaser what was Ceaser’s and unto God what is God’s.’ He went on to complain about how the question had nothing to do with London, for which he got an applause (which yours truly, helped start and sustain!). Brian Paddick saved the day by pointing out that it might be better if the questions stayed on the issues which the Mayor could actually influence.
It was good to see Christians being so feisty and an evening which could so easily have been very boring, was anything but.
Attending such an event reinforces my view that we all need to get more interested in our part of the democratic process. The hustings were nothing like the debates we see on television and the discussions were frank and bold and I for one came away feeling my voice had been heard.
So yet again, I plead, come May 3rd have your say and vote.