The Common Good at the Centre in Darlington

A challenge to the prospective
Parliamentary candidates of Darlington
anticipating the 2017 General Election 8th June 2017

Produced by the Christian community
throughout the town of Darlington


Contents

You may download the questions here: doc(130k)

You may download the answers below as docx:.

If you prefer pdfs, click here:pdf folder


Introduction

The announcement of a General Election by Prime Minister May came as a shock to many. It is just two years since the last General Election, and at one level, arguably little has changed. And yet, at a deeper level, everything has changed because of the decision made by the British people to leave Europe. This will be an election in which the sub-text of every question is formed by Brexit; indeed some would argue that the politics of party should be abandoned on this occasion and replaced by the politics of Brexit.

It has become a tradition that the churches of Darlington organise a husting event. It is part of that event that candidates are invited to respond in advance to a series of questions posed within a paper prepared by members of the Christian community. Their responses form a kind of moral contract between the candidate and the voter.

The paper that the churches prepare to present to candidates builds upon the theme of the common good, a concept that looks back to seminal report entitled “The Common Good” published in October 1996 by the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. Though parts of this document are now dated - both society and Church’s social teaching have moved on - the core notion of the common good still holds true. The ‘common good’ is that network of social conditions which enable all of us to flourish as dignified, responsible, human beings living meaningful lives free from fear, coercion, and inequalities of opportunity or of the benefits of our society. “Common” implies “all inclusive”; the common good cannot exclude or exempt any section of the population. Pursuing the common good is a Christian obligation.

The title of this paper is The Common Good at the Centre. It is the sixth such document, following up earlier documents produced for the elections of 1997 (Towards the Common Good in Darlington), 2001 (Passion for the Common Good in Darlington), 2005 (Grounding the Common Good in Darlington), 2010 (Integrity and Purpose: The Common Good in Darlington) and 2015 (Regaining the Common Good in Darlington).

The church has a strong record of positive engagement with social issues. Indeed, social concern is woven into the Christian faith tradition (see reflection below). What is true for the wider church is true for Christian individuals in Darlington. As they seek to live out their faith through work, leisure, interests, and relationships, they engage with, and influence, the body politic, illuminating concepts like community, citizenship, and social responsibility from the perspective of Christian belief. Of course, in saying this, we are not suggesting that the views of those who do not share a Christian belief are not equally valid, on the contrary. That is why we have held on to the term common good - the good of all - as the ground of our commitment; this term we believe embraces and unites the commitment of both Christian and non-Christian in common purpose.

Although shaped by Christian reflection, this document is not intended to promote any particular faith agenda, nor is it a party political document. The aim throughout is to create the ‘thinking space’ for all of us, the people of Darlington, to think about how we may best work together towards the common good. Within this, we have three primary objectives:

i) To offer prospective Parliamentary candidates an opportunity to explain to the electorate what drives and inspires them to stand for Parliament and represent Darlington

ii) To enable the electorate to decide, having gained an insight into the way each candidate thinks, how they may best use their vote to further the common good

iii) To facilitate a positive engagement between candidates and electorate

This document will be presented to each Parliamentary candidate with a request to make a written response to the questions raised. The replies will be published in full on our website: www.churchindarlington.org.uk/commongood and circulated among the churches. Candidates are invited to take part in a public ‘Question Time’ debate on 25th May 2017.

We hope that through this initiative, we will harness the determination of the Darlington community to work for the common good, and that as a community we will elect the right person to the very important position of Darlington’s MP.

The Christian Context

Christian belief influences the way Christians see the world. This section is therefore intended, with very broad brush strokes, to root this document within the Christian faith. The brush strokes are inevitably broad because many of the most pressing issues that face and divide contemporary society divide the Christian the community too.

A key biblical passage linking faith to social justice is known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7). It is significant that Jesus began this sermon not by interpreting the law or with ethical codes but by describing people. Those described as blessed are those who know their own poverty, who do not guarded themselves against sorrow, who are gentle, who long to see right prevail, who are generous in forgiveness and pure in heart, who make peace and who willingly suffer the consequences of making a public stand for what is good. What Jesus here describes is not so much an ordered piety as a generous humanity. Intuitively one knows that these are not the people who will be found guarding the world’s concentration camps or at the forefront of hatred that divides. Nor do they feed resentments, or keep alive un-forgiven ills and ancient quarrels. They do not cry out for recognition, or parade their virtue for our admiration. They stand tall and are remembered long after their contribution has been made.

We believe that a generous humanity is the bedrock of the common good. It is worked out not through rules and regulations but through the priority of love. Jesus expressed it succinctly: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself.” Love, of course, is not a term that is in regular use in political debate, but at the very deepest level we believe it is its primary context. When, for example, thousands of people spontaneously donate money in response to disaster, or to take to the street in protest when liberty is threatened, they are asserting that through giving of themselves (a loving response) they can make a difference to the world. We do not believe, therefore, that it is inappropriate for politicians to reflect upon, for example, how love should respond to the plight of refugees, to the gap between the rich and poor, or to the request by an individual for assistance in ending their life.

The manifesto offered by Jesus to ‘love one’s neighbour as oneself’ is set in the context of loving God. On this basis, we believe that a healthy society must acknowledge human spirituality, in whatever form it emerges. In addition, the fact that the manifesto is ‘neighbour’-centred exploits the inherent ambiguity of this key term: it is about working for the good of the person who lives next door as well as working for one’s neighbour suffering injustice on the other side of the world.

Darlington is a relatively small town, but its political agenda cannot exist in isolation from global concerns. Turning points in the human story, moments of great significance, are formed from a thousand small decisions and a milieu of shared purpose. We believe that a responsible and thoughtful use of one’s right to vote can change the world for the good of all its citizens.

What is the Common Good?

"The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies." Pope Francis

The notion of the common good can be traced back two millennia to the writing of Aristotle. He argued that a human life can be judged good when it is shaped by the relatively consistent pursuit of ends that are themselves good. Unpacking this idea he came to the significant conclusion that a good life is oriented to goods shared with others – the common good of the larger society of which one is a part. Thus the good of the individual and the good of society are intimately linked.

Although, from a Christian perspective, the idea of the common good has been refined and earthed by the teaching of Jesus, its origin in Aristotelian ethics renders it unsurprising that the principles and values that ultimately emerge as the precursor to a ‘good society’ appeal as much to the Christian as to those without faith. This document is earthed in that understanding. It is written by Christians, but from a perspective that transcends Christianity.

Offering a comprehensive definition of the common good is not the purpose of this document. There are, however, some key beliefs that are intrinsic to the concept which, because they impinge upon what the common good means for Darlington we here state:

We believe in the dignity and value of every single life

Central to our understanding of the common good is the dignity and value of every human life. As Christians we would link this to the belief that every life is a gift of God created in the divine image; others may come to the same view by a different route. By virtue of our shared humanity, we have an obligation to respect and honour one another. Each individual brings a unique gift to the world that must not be disregarded, and the integrity of that gift must be respected and protected at every point.

Fundamental to human dignity and human value is human freedom. A good society respects human freedom by enabling men and women to take responsibility for their own history as independent and interdependent people. To deprive people of such freedom diminishes and devalues them.

We believe in community

We are most human when we know ourselves to be dependent on others. Therefore, individuals have a claim on each other and on society for certain basic minimum conditions without which the value of human life is diminished. These 'minimum conditions' are expressed as human rights that are universal and inalienable: religious liberty, decent work, housing, health care, freedom of speech, education, and the right to raise and provide for a family. Everyone has a duty to the common good in order that the rights of others can be satisfied and their freedoms protected. Those whose freedoms are being denied should be helped to claim them.

We believe in mutual accountability

Contemporary society has become preoccupied by the concept of personal autonomy - it has become “me” centred … my rights, my life and in my best interest. We believe that this notion must always be tempered by the recognition that as people we are diminished if we have and others do not. The hungry person in Sudan or the homeless person on our street judges us; we are accountable to them.

We believe in democracy

Although, as Christians, we would wish to refine the belief in democracy by the phrase ‘under God’, we believe in a system where everyone has a voice and where every voice is significant. We believe that democracy is an expression of a collective and mutually responsible form of governance that, in an ideal situation, should exclude no one from the decision making process.

Democracy is diminished by voter apathy. If the Brexit vote proves anything it is that voters can bring about change. To be able to vote in a free election is a hard won privilege. Government should, through electoral and constitutional reform, and through processes like devolution, do all that they can to demonstrate to people that their vote truly matters.

We believe in politics

The UK political system has evolved over generations. At its best it encloses proper debate, proper consultation, and a genuine commitment to the common good. We do not, however, support overtly adversarial politics where party is promoted over principle and where politicians resort to demeaning and mocking those who disagree with them. Adversarial politics has bequeathed an adversarial approach to ideas in which one's opponents must be wholly wrong and self-criticism is never legitimate. In our 2001 document, “Passion for the Common Good”, we called for a “re-moralising” of politics. We still believe it is a legitimate call.

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Contemporary Political Issues and the Common Good

Theory must be rooted in real issues that touch local, national and international communities. Any prospective MP, if elected, will have to confront these real issues and seek to answer them. In this section, some of what we believe to be the greatest challenges to the common good are laid out. These challenges give rise to the questions that we want to address to the Parliamentary Candidates, the answers to which will enable the electorate to gain some insight into the values, moral judgement and ethical principles which shape their view of the world. (The issues presented below, are not presented in order of importance.)

You may also download the whole document as a pdf for printing.pdf

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The Brexit Question

Brexit was earlier identified as the sub-text to every question posed here; the decision made by the British people to leave the European Union in June 16 permeates every aspect of our communal life. Since that momentous decision, millions of words have been expended in trying to discern its real significance. Argument and counter argument over the legality of the decision, whether it should be overturned, whether exit should be ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, have been repeated ad-nauseam. Whether one voted for or against the dissolution of ties with Europe, we are where we are and must now move forward – to do anything else would be to sacrifice the meaning of democracy.

Questions

If you had a crystal ball in which you could envision our country in two years’ time, aside from party posturing and political dogma, where do you feel we will be? Will the country be better or worse? Will everything work out?

This election was incontrovertibly called by Prime Minister May in order to strengthen her hand in negotiating the terms for leaving the European Union, but it could backfire. Should empowering a leader for the negotiation be the voter’s priority, rather than voting for the manifesto of a party?

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The Economy

After some initial post-Brexit worries, Britain’s economy has gone from strength to strength. Gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 0.7 per cent in the final three months of 2016, up from 0.6 per cent in the previous quarter. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has predicted that the economy will expand by 1.6 per cent this year, faster than the 1.2 per cent growth it previously forecast for the same time period. Inflation hit a three-year high in February 2017, rising to 2.3 per cent. Similarly the FTSE 100 has bounced back from the lows seen in the aftermath of the referendum to record highs. But in spite of the current economic optimism, there are still fears that the economy could struggle when Britain actually leaves the European Union in 2019.

The last election was fought against the backcloth of an austerity agenda; and austerity remains very much the context for daily life. Cuts to welfare, the closure of services and the loss of amenities are a daily reality faced by the people of Darlington.

No one doubts the importance of addressing the national debt, currently in the region of 4.8 trillion and growing by 5,170 per second. However, we believe that the measures adopted to address the debt embraced by the term 'austerity' cannot exist outside the moral imperative to protect the most vulnerable members of our society. We believe that the national debt should not be addressed in ways that are to the detriment of the poor, not just those in our own communities, but the poor of the world.

The UK economy exists in a global context. A fair economy must also be fair to our global neighbours. As of 2016 (2012 statistics), the World Bank has estimated that there were 896 million poor people in developing countries who live on $1.90 a day or less. This compares with compared with 1.95 billion in 1990, and 1.99 billion in 1981. Progress is being made, but it will cease without commitment.

Questions

The austerity agenda has been effective in removing waste and overspend in local authorities across the country (including Darlington). However, after 7 years and with core services at risk, is it time to change direction?

We believe that the cost of tackling the national debt should be shared by all, but that those who have more should pay more. How will you act to protect the poorest in our society from bearing too much?

The Northern Powerhouse concept has survived the change in the treasury following the Brexit decision. How will you ensure that the Darlington economy benefits from this initiative?

Rebalancing the UK economy has and will require some difficult choices. What stance will you take concerning the budget for foreign aid (currently 0.7% GDP)? Should it be ring-fenced, or should it, as some argue, be cut and spent on the health service?

Challenged about the existence of food banks, Mrs May suggested that “people use food banks for a range of reasons” but failed to say what those reasons might be. What does the existence, and normalisation, of food banks say about contemporary society?

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Employment

Christians see work not only through the lens of the economy, but also through the lens of human dignity. The meaningful and productive activity offered by employment precipitates fulfilment and a sense of worth; this directly contributes to happiness and wellbeing. Work then matters to people, yet for many the search for work is a fruitless one. Though it has fallen slightly since the last election (0.3%), at 7.4%, unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment, in the region is higher than anywhere else in the country. A dual commitment to bringing employment and to up-skilling the young, we believe, must motivate our incoming MP.

Alongside a concern for employment, the Christian community also have concerns about worker’s rights post-Brexit. The Brexit White Paper contained a pledge from the Conservative government that they would “protect and enhance” workers’ rights throughout the Brexit plan, whilst Jeremy Corbyn recently announced that Labour would increase the minimum to 10 an hour by 2020 to ensure everyone receives a ‘living wage’. Both mainstream parties, then, bring worker’s rights to the forefront, but the majority of protections afforded to workers derive directly from EU directives – and in two years these will no longer be binding!

Questions

How will your party ensure the employment rights currently enjoyed in the UK are fully protected after the UK leaves the EU?

The film “I Daniel Blake” tells the story of an individual who falls victim to the benefit system – a system that lacks flexibility and compassion. In real life it is a story that many would recognise. Sanctioning payment as a tool for enforcing conformity is draconian, unjust, counter-productive and cruel. What will you do to eradicate this damaging practice and change the ethos of the benefit system away from enforcer to enabler?

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Peace and Security

Terrorism remains the greatest threat to peace and security in the UK. The attack on 22nd March 2017 illustrates the threat in a chilling way, not only because it brought death to Westminster, but also because the perpetrator was British, born in Kent, radicalized in Saudi Arabia.

Following the attack no change was made to the threat level for international terrorism, so it remains at severe, which means an attack is “highly likely”. Theresa May said it will not be raised to the next level, because there is no intelligence that an attack is imminent.

That said, according to MI6, the current threat from ISIS is “unprecedented”, with the terrorist organizations targeting the UK from deep inside Syria. An EU report warned more than 1,500 jihadists have returned to Europe with orders to “carry out attacks“.

The current UK strategy is, according to MI6, to “take the fight to the enemy". The UK is part of the Global Coalition – one of 68 partners – committed to defeating ISIS through military action, cutting off funding, stopping the flow of foreigners fleeing to join its ranks and degrading the terror organization’s jihadist narrative. Accordingly, the RAF has conducted more than 1,000 airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and on the ground, the UK has trained 30,000 Iraqi soldiers and vetted members of Syrian opposition groups in the fight against ISIS.

Questions

Has the terrorist threat to the UK increased as a result of Brexit?

As churches we believe that the only, and indeed the most effective way, to degrade Islamic State is to dismantle its social base by winning over hearts and minds, but if we can’t win young minds that are formed in Britain, what chance is there in elsewhere?

Is the radicalization of British young men evidence of a spiritual vacuum in British culture?

If terrorism (and therefore fear) is the enemy, are other forms of defence a costly indulgence? (i.e., the Trident question)

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Caring for Planet Earth

On May 5th the government published its plans to cut levels of diesel fumes, nitrogen oxides and particulates in the atmosphere, but only a court ruling. This reluctance raises an immediate question about government’s true commitment to solving a problem that medical experts say is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths every year. The plans contained no detailed proposals and left most anti-pollution measures to be dealt with by local authorities. This is unacceptable. The primary cause of the pollution is the diesel car, which, until 18 months ago, the government were encouraging the public to acquire, spurred on by a car industry that was (and perhaps still is) falsifying the data on emissions.

Questions

Will you commit to holding government and car manufacturers to account for the damage they have inflicted on the nation’s health by, on the one hand, failing to act, and on the other, putting profits before people’s lives?

The UK signed up to the EU Renewable Energy Directive, which includes a UK target of 15% of energy from renewable sources (wind, wave, solar and biomass) by 2020. Commitments were also made to reduce greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050. Now that we are leaving Europe, will these targets be abandoned?

Many people can’t afford to heat their homes over the winter. We can’t afford to ignore climate change either. How would your party tackle fuel-poverty in a long-term, sustainable manner?

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The injustice of Homelessness

Unlike many towns in the country, Darlington does not have high levels of street homelessness. This is because by working in partnership, the local authority and the voluntary sector have developed services for the homeless that are second to none. Facilities are available which mean that no one needs to sleep on the streets. However, so-called ‘hidden homelessness’ (sofa-surfing, etc.) still exists, the demand for one bedroom accommodation still exceeds supply, and affordability of suitable accommodation remains an issue.

The Homelessness Reduction Act received Royal Assent at the end of April. It imposes duties upon local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness, regardless of whether regardless of whether individuals are ‘intentionally homeless’ or priority need. This is positive, but only if the resources are there to fulfil the duty. Although still excellent, homelessness services were not untouched by cuts imposed through Darlington Council’s medium term financial plan.

Homelessness cannot be divorced from housing policy in general. We believe that the provision of affordable, good quality, homes should be a priority. Government needs to invest in housing infrastructure, looking in particular at the needs of the young and the vulnerable.

Questions

What will you do to keep the issue of homelessness at the top of the national and local agenda? Will you be an advocate for the homeless people in Darlington and for the organisations that seek to support them?

How would you deal with an individual who uses the pretence of homelessness to awaken public sympathy and attract more contributions into a begging bowl?

If a homeless individual presented at your surgery, what would you do?

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Welcoming the stranger – Asylum and Immigration

Asylum-seeker numbers in Darlington are very low, and as such, provoke little public concern. Immigration is more emotive, though actually the number of immigrants in Darlington is falling. It is the national picture that is the real driver.

Migration watch have indicated that that on current trends the UK population will increase by 3 million over the next four years (rising from 65 million)

Mrs May has said: “Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe.” Immigration was arguably the biggest issue driving the Leave campaign, with many Britons saying that they wanted to see a reduction in the number of EU migrants. Earlier this month the Prime Minister reiterated her aim of bringing net migration to tens of thousands – a target which David Cameron repeatedly failed to achieve. Last year, net migration into the UK was 273,000 (up to Sept 16).

The Government has not revealed how it will regain control of Britain’s borders after Brexit, although different options have been canvassed (i.e. Australian style point system). David Davis (the Brexit Secretary) has said that the new system will be “sustainable”, “properly managed” and “will be in everybody's interests – the migrants and the citizens of the UK”. After Britain leaves the European Union, he said that immigration should rise and fall depending on the needs of our economy.

Questions

According to research, Britain is one of the worst destinations for people seeking asylum in Western Europe. Britain takes fewer refugees, offers less generous financial support, provides housing that is often substandard, does not give asylum seekers the right to work, has been known to punish those who volunteer, and routinely forces people into destitution and even homelessness when they are not granted refugee status due to bureaucratic delays. What can be changed to avoid deepening the pain of individuals who are already traumatised by the journey to Britain?

Can the UK service economy survive without immigrant workers?

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Religious Faith in Public Life

Darlington has an increasingly diverse cultural and religious mix within its population. Initiatives locally have sought to bring faith communities together at a point in history where allegiance to faith community is frequently used as a rallying cry. Islamic fundamentalism, religiously inspired terrorism, and the dark side of religious extremism has often overshadowed the positive, and led to a mistrust of the faith communities in general. We believe that all faith communities have a part to play in building social capital and community cohesion. They are also, frequently, at the forefront in speaking up for the most vulnerable in society.

Questions

Do you have established relationships with Darlington’s faith communities (not just Christian communities)? If not, how do you start to engage with them?

How can the insights that faith traditions have about the privilege and responsibility of living in community be shared and developed for the common good?

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Criminal Justice

We applaud the fact that the Durham and Darlington Constabulary is rated as excellent nationally, and that it so often leads the way in initiatives that are rolled out across the country (e.g., community service, restorative justice). We applaud the multi-agency involvement encouraged by the Crime and Victim Commissioner. In Darlington, however, we remain concerned about levels of anti-social behaviour, the increase in crimes involving arson, drug and alcohol related crime, begging, and the reduction in police budgets. We applaud the actions taken since 2015 to limit the use of police cells as places of safety for those with mental health problems.

The sentencing of offenders still concerns us; we believe that a sentence of 20 years should mean 20 years, and that a commute of sentence to 50% should be genuinely earned. We remain concerned about the number of vulnerable people who end up in prison because there is nowhere else for them.

We believe that more resources should be directed towards aftercare – following release with 46 in one’s pocket, it is too easy to go back to the behaviours that led to imprisonment – so addicts return to drugs, alcoholics to drink, and so on. (Many fine words are spoken about this, but they don’t match the reality - some are even discharged to street homelessness)

Questions

Unarmed, Keith Palmer was a constable in the Metropolitan Police’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command when he was killed; should police now be armed by default?

For many, prison is a revolving door because the resources for resettlement and re-integration are lacking. Will your party invest to save? (Save in both senses ... the person and the cost of imprisonment)

Restorative justice initiatives promise (and claim) more than they deliver. What will you do to ensure that public money diverted into restorative justice services is genuinely saving court time and is satisfying the victim’s needs?

Public confidence in the justice system is undermined by sentences that do not reflect the actual time to be spent in prison. How can confidence be restored?

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The gap between rich and poor

We believe that all individuals are of equal worth before God. However, the vast gap between the rich and poor contradicts this belief. Just eight people own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world; these individuals are sitting on more financial assets than 3.6 billion people put together. While the number of people living in extreme poverty has decreased in recent decades, 700 million more people could have escaped poverty if action had been taken to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

Global inequality, though not to such an obscene level, has a counterpart in the UK, where the gap between rich and poor is now greater than at any time over the last 40 years. Indeed, the UK is now regarded as one of the most unequal countries outside the developing world. Surveys suggest 82% of the UK public are concerned about this, and 69% think it is an issue the government' should, in some way, address.

Economic inequality affects social fabric, weakens social bonds and damages the common good. Research has shown it has an impact upon happiness, human well-being, life expectancy, educational performance, citizenship and community, social mobility, law and order, religious and racial harmony and relationships. As a result, all of us are affected, yet the most effective too for combatting inequality, the tax system, actually reinforces it by placing the heaviest burden on the poorest.

Many ordinary people Darlington are just about managing (JAM) as they struggle to make ends meet and to pay for basic necessities like food, energy and housing. The cost of living has risen, but wages for the poorest section of the community have not kept up. The work and pensions secretary, Damian Green has said: “I’m committed to tackling disadvantage. Work is the best route out of poverty. Working parents help the whole family because of the dignity and security that comes from having a job.” These words may be true, but only if wages provide enough for a family to live on.

Alongside the rich/poor divide, child poverty has continued to rise. According to the Rowntree Foundation, in the two years since the last election, it has risen by 2% – this pushes the number of children officially regarded as living in poverty to above 30%. Darlington is a microcosm of this national statistic; it is the reason why attending a food bank has become normality instead of something that pride resists.

Questions

In your opinion, what is the route to building a more equitable society? Has taxation a role to play?

Will you commit to making the minimum wage a living wage?

A child living in poverty judges the society that allows it. The fact that the numbers are increasing is a cause for shame. What will you do to ensure that a childhood in economic poverty does not translate into adult poverty?

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Life and Death

As Christians we have a deep convictions about the sanctity of life. New technology has given human beings a power over life (and death) that formerly was regarded as belonging to God. The Assisted Dying Bill 2016-17 has had a first reading. Its provisions enable competent adults who are terminally ill to be provided at their request with specified assistance to end their own life. The assisted dying debate is emotive – anyone who has seen another die in pain will have a strong view. But principle must trump emotion.

Questions

MPs will doubtless be given a free vote on this issue. What is your view of an individual with a terminal disease possessing the legal right to end their own life? How would you seek to make your view a representative rather than a personal one?

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Social Care

The crisis in social care has been well documented. Some attempt to address it has been made through the Better Care Fund. The crisis is both a crisis of finance and care quality, two areas which are intimately linked; a good quality service is only possible where there are the resources to deliver it. Many proposals aimed at meeting this crisis refer to the contribution that volunteers can make to reduce the social care bill, but this is not, as widely believed, a cost free option, and risks compromising quality. Poor monitoring of standards and inadequate training are a recipe for disaster and has the effect of persuading those in need of care that they do not matter.

Questions

It is clear that the bringing together of health and social care has the potential to reduce costs and improve quality. However, in practice, there are too many competing interests … loss of power, control and influence. What will your party do to ensure that health and social care are properly joined up for the common good?

What measures can be taken locally and through legislation to improve the quality of care in the sector?

Will your government commit to funding research into the costly ailments of an increasing elderly population (e.g. dementia)?

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Health and Well-being

We accept that demand will always outstrip demand in regard to health provision. We accept that we have been misled regarding the 350m per week that leaving Europe will direct into health provision. Nevertheless, we want a government that is committed to the values that make the NHS what it is, and want to see healthcare properly and equitably funded (no postcode lottery).

We are particularly concerned about mental health services. It is estimated that mental health issues will affect 2 out of 3 people over the course of their lifetime, and yet, only 6% of health spending goes into mental health services. A freedom of information request has shown that 57% of CCG’s are planning a reduction in mental health spending. Early intervention services are also significantly impacted by cuts, as is the availability of beds in local hospitals. The level of research into the causes of mental health crisis and treatment are very low (22 x less than on cancer).

Questions

Demands on the health service will always outstrip the capacity to supply. What will your government do to ensure that mental health is funded properly?

Approximately a third of police time is spent dealing with mental health issues. How would you approach this problem?

Early intervention and prevention works. How will you encourage the development of, and commissioning of, local services that are easily accessible to Darlington people?

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Equality and Diversity

Christians believe that all human beings are equal under God and all should be respected as such. We fully support the laws that protect against discrimination and which promote equality on all nine grounds described by the Equalities Act 2010. We acknowledge that we have failed in some of these areas in the past, and that the legacy of that remains with us. In some areas we are still failing.

Questions

A funding crisis has led to the recent closure of Gay Advice Darlington/Durham and to a limiting of Darlington Association of Disability’s services in Darlington. Although they serve relatively small sectors of the community, their very existence is a statement about equality and inclusivity. How will you ensure that minority voices are not silenced as an un-intended consequence of austerity?

If elected, in what way will you gather the views of the BME (black, minority and ethnic) community in Darlington?

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Education and Young People

Education is always an emotive issue at election time, for no other reason than that it relates to the life chances of the nation’s youth. The Conservative Government’s stated intention is to overturn nearly twenty years of academic and political consensus and allow for a return to academically selective secondary education. Although we recognize the motive for doing so, at a time when the economy rules, we are concerned that the policy will have a detrimental effect upon the less able.

From September 2017, the government will double the free childcare allowance for working parents of three and four year olds from 15 to 30 hours per week. The policy aims to help parents to take up work, or to allow those already in employment to work more hours. But childcare is not education, and it does not therefore address the massive discrepancies in school readiness between rich and poor.

In December 2016 the National Audit Office published analysis which found that schools across England will see a funding gap of 3 billion by 2019/20, and are facing budget cuts equivalent to a real terms reduction in per-pupil funding of 8%. We believe that funding education must be a priority; the National Funding Formula (NFF), re-allocated resources more fairly, but did not increase them.

Questions

Academically selective secondary education risks re-introducing elitism into education. What is your commitment to those who are not academically gifted?

Some schools in more well-to-do areas are asking parents to contribute. How are schools to be adequately funded? What is your party commitment?

With children from low-income families estimated to be over a year and a half behind more advantaged peers in their development by age 5, how can the school readiness gap be closed?

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The Voluntary Sector

By their very nature, faith communities are part of the diverse and active voluntary or ‘third sector’ in Darlington. The crucial contribution to local communities made by the voluntary sector has been recognised by both central and local government, and (perhaps out of necessity) the sector is seen as having a central role to play in delivering services within Health and Social Care. However, strategic decision making often excludes the sector, and assumptions are made about its capacity and ability to deliver that are not matched by a commitment to funding.

Questions

What is your understanding of the voluntary sector in Darlington? Are you involved in it?

Since the last election many voluntary sector organisations have been faced with cuts. Some organisations have disappeared completely. What action can you take to ensure a strong and properly resourced third sector in Darlington?

Should government allow local authorities to add a percentage charge or levy to rates to fund the local voluntary sector?

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What we expect of our political representative …

No MP is perfect. Whoever is elected will have strengths and weaknesses. We believe it is important that the person elected possesses the humility to accept the truth of this statement. For some, politics is a calling, for others a career choice. Whoever represents us, we are seeking:

A person of integrity: We expect the highest levels of personal and public integrity and would want to reserve the right to recall an elected member who is shown to have committed a misdemeanour that brings either Parliament or Darlington into disrepute.

A servant of the electorate: An MP has a duty to represent the whole constituency, including those who hold different views. We want an MP who genuinely represents Darlington, and who is truly accountable to the people of Darlington.

A person of principle not party: Adversarial politics tends to prioritise party over principle and paint the world in black and white. We applaud proper debate as a sign of a healthy democracy. We want an MP who is prepared to stand up to the whips if mandated to do so by either conscience or constituency.

An independent thinker who is prepared to challenge and offer genuine representation: Wise MPs recognise that the answer to pressing national questions could lie within their constituency. We are seeking an MP who is prepared to be shaped by local consultation, debate and dialogue.

A person rooted in Darlington, accessible and in touch with its people: We believe that elected members should be rooted in the local community, be based locally, mix with local people and use local services. We believe that our representative should be accessible to the whole town and should create opportunities to listen to and to understand the needs of the community from within.

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Questions

Why do you want to be MP for Darlington?

What is your connection to Darlington? If you were elected and are not already resident, how would you root yourself in this community?

Serving as an MP there will be occasions on which you will make decisions that are complex and contentious. Has there been an occasion in the past when you have had to make a stand and defend an unpopular decision? From where have you derived strength?

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Conclusion

We ask each candidate who will be seeking to represent Darlington in Parliament to consider the questions raised in this document and to present a written response. We will make copies of these responses available within our churches and the wider community through the use of our website, and then, on May 25th at 7.00 pm in St Cuthbert’s there will be a public meeting to allow candidates a further opportunity to express their views and to take questions.

We recognise that the work of the politician today is no easy task. We promise our prayerful support but we also would remind all candidates and the duly elected member that we are committed to working for the common good in the months before and in the years after the General Election. We hope and pray that if you are elected you will work alongside the people of Darlington for the creation of a community in which all have a dignified share and which we will all be confident to pass on to those who come after us.

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References and acknowledgements

Towards the Common Good in Darlington”, 1997: an election document produced by the Churches.

Passion for the Common Good in Darlington”, 2001: an election document produced by the Churches.

Grounding the Common Good in Darlington”, 2005: an election document produced by the Churches.

"Integrity and Purpose: The Common Good in Darlington", 2010: an election document produced by the Churches.

"Regaining The Common Good in Darlington", 2015: an election document produced by the Churches.

The Common Good” 1996: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Faith in Politics” 2010: Preparing the church for the General Election. Churches Together in England.

"Who is my neighbour?” A Letter from the House of Bishops to the People and Parishes of the Church of England for the General Election 2015.

Churches Together in Darlington May 2017

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