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London

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:43 pm on 28th April 2004.

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Photo of The Bishop of London The Bishop of London Bishop 3:43 pm, 28th April 2004

My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, for initiating this debate. I join many other Members of the House in being an admirer of the noble Lord's work for London First.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, I am also a Londoner, by adoption and grace, and I was on the beat this weekend in Hanwell in west London. I fell into conversation there with the Sikh mayor, a Hindu councillor and the Roman Catholic local MP. I can assure noble Lords that this is not the prelude to a grisly joke. We were discussing governance and especially the challenge posed by declining participation in elections and the political process generally.

Together, we—that disparate crew—were celebrating the 1,400th anniversary of the arrival in London of my predecessor, St Mellitus, in 604, when the Church in London was re-established after a pagan interlude and the first St Paul's was built. Together, we agreed that it would have been fascinating to witness the first encounter between the shaven crowned monk from Rome and the Euro-sceptic East Saxons.

The Sikh mayor was a little late, as he had been involved in the affairs of his gurdwara in Southall. The MP described the flourishing state of his local Roman Catholic Church, and the Hindu councillor painted a similarly upbeat picture of life around the temple in Neasden. As a former Bishop of Stepney, I know very well what a huge contribution to social cohesion and the accumulation of social capital is made by the mosques throughout London. I also see all around me, and depend on, the good will and generosity of the London Jewish community.

In places where, in living memory, political parties and unions had a prominent social role and where once they were able to bring Londoners together face-to-face in public and in a regular way for a range of good causes, now, and especially in non-plutocratic London, virtually only the faith communities are able to assemble citizens in any numbers for regular face-to-face encounter.

The Christian Churches alone organise in London 6,500 social action projects in every borough. We do not operate as a special interest group; we are players and partners. Week after week, 600,000 Londoners, drawn from every borough, age and racial group, participate in worship. The recent census revealed that 75 per cent of Londoners declared a religious faith and three-quarters of them said that they were Christians.

The majority of Christian churches in London, in contrast to much of the rest of the country, have grown over the past 10 years. In my diocese, the Korean Anglican congregation is one of the fastest-growing. No wonder that Mayor Livingstone has remarked that two things about London are obvious to him on his various visits. As the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, has already said, London's population is increasing—that is the first thing—and, secondly, the Mayor says that it is an increasingly religious city. Whether that gives him as much satisfaction is less clear.

We are concerned about participation in working for London's future. We all note the prevalence of single-issue politics and the development of what we might describe as the "plaintiff's" voice. We all know that we need to encourage, by contrast, a civic voice which is concerned with the flourishing of the whole community and not only sectional interests.

It was in that spirit that the Evangelical Alliance and the leadership of all the London Churches, representing those 600,000 and the many beyond them—the cardinal, the bishop and the Free Church leaders—published last week our contribution to the mayoral election debate. It is entitled Faith, Work and City and, because we are thoroughly up-to-date, one can download it from our website www.votelondon.org.uk.

Of course, I am sorry to say that the publication does not endorse any particular candidate for the mayoralty, but it is a sane reflection provided by Christian practitioners in the various fields of London life. In the document is an appreciation of the significance for us all of the continued prosperity of the City of London. There is also the view of those who work alongside the homeless in London. The points made in that contribution will be followed up at a hustings meeting, which we are organising on Sunday, 9 May, at Methodist Central Hall for all the candidates. See you there!

The mystery is that the concern that we all share about participation does not seem to translate very easily into seriousness about engaging with London's faith communities or recognising their role, even in such obvious areas as the cultural strategy for the capital or in policing at borough level. London, as a city with a global constituency, is open as is practically no other British city to the increased significance of religious institutions and religious convictions in the rest of the world.

The post-9/11 situation points to a real urgency about engaging with those who have a civic vision in the faith communities beyond their own confessional concerns. But so often the response is, "We are multi-faith. We do not deal with particular religious bodies", and therefore "multi-faith" becomes shorthand for trying to edit out the contribution of faith communities from the life of our city. That response reflects the thinking of the day before yesterday.

The object of any system of governance is to build a city in which people assemble in a way that promotes human flourishing. The cohesion and energising of any city that really does promote human flourishing depends on three things: common objects of love; an equitable spread of economic benefits and protection; and a shared vision of what we want to build. In this debate we have talked a great deal, quite rightly, about benefits and protection, but obviously we should not neglect developing a shared vision or those common objects of love. It would be bizarre if, in this task, the opportunities offered by my friends in Hanwell, the mosques, the synagogues, the temples, the gurdwaras and the churches, were to be overlooked.