Holiness and Justice at Tolpuddle
On the way to Tolpuddle on the Sunday Morning the roads were busy – everything was busier, more and bigger hold-ups than usual. And that was the story for the whole day – everything was more, bigger, busier. Immediately noticeable when approaching the “Crew” backstage entrance for the wreath-laying was the police presence, usually discreet and unnoticeable but very much to the fore today. A reflection, I guess, of the troubled world we live in – increasingly troubled over the last couple of weeks since the Leave vote.
That vote obviously influenced today’s events at Tolpuddle – how could it not. As our Vice-President, Rachel Lampard, mentioned ironically at the beginning of her address in the Chapel, “A week is a long-time in politics”. It raised a laugh, everyone being well aware that an hour has been a long time in politics since June 24th.
That day precipitated the Conservative Party leadership contest, initially due to last three months, but resolved in a matter of days. It precipitated the Labour Party’s own leadership contest, the Labour party contest clearly being of more interest to the assembled folk at Tolpuddle.
The “Corbynistas” were out in force, but I expected them to be. This is a Trade Union Festival and Mr Corbyn’s strongest support probably comes from this area – the Grass Roots. It was noticeable there were no other senior Labour party politicians here. Recent years have seen Angela Eagle and Hilary Benn grace the stage. They would have had a far more hostile reception this year.
And the numbers of people there actually impeded my reporting of the event, dear Reader! I could not get near my normal vantage point just behind the sound desk to take pictures of the speakers with my “paparazzi” lens – particularly when Mr Corbyn was on the stage. I with many others was standing in the road just down from the stage – we could still hear, though.
Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the TUC, joked about Theresa May’s cabinet. Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, to be fair, seems to be a move many see as funny, Angela Leadsom to agriculture so she can break it to all the farmers that they won’t get EU subsidies any more. But the biggest laugh was Michael Gove’s new position – sacked…… and I am only, dear Reader, reporting on what others said. But Frances also more seriously talked about the need to maintain worker’s rights, about the European Court of Human Rights, about all sorts of other things which will be under threat through the Leave vote.
Racism also figured – the intolerance (to put it mildly) all too much in evidence since Leave day seeming to be as alien here as it is to the Churches. Speakers from other lands grace the stage every year. The Trade Unions pride themselves on their internationalism, supporting fiercely those places which have a far more unequal struggle for recognition and rights.
When Mr Corbyn came to the stage, he was enthusiastically greeted. Earlier in the afternoon he spoke briefly at the wreath laying – but longer than anyone else! But he stuck to the script, respectful of the martyrs, their values, their faith and recognising their contribution to justice issues worldwide. He echoed what our own Vice-President had said a few minutes previously.
From the stage he hit all the right notes, none of the opposition from within his own party present – although one lady after the wreath laying had shouted at him – “Why don’t you go, now”. But he remembered previous occasions – notably 1974 – when a Labour Government was returned, albeit a minority one, after the miner’s strike and the three day week. He forecast he would stay as leader and win the next election. This was enthusiastically received, as you can imagine. He vaguely quoted the Good Samaritan – “are we expected to pass by on the other side” – when it comes to Benefit Caps, Tax Credits, PIP’s (Personal Independence Payments) and all the other results of Austerity which hit the most vulnerable the most hard. These, of course, are all things that Rachel’s JPIT work extremely hard at too. It’s the call for justice which is common to the TUC and the Methodist (and other) Churches.
Then the service at the end of the day. Two Vice-presidents – Dudley Coates, a local man, leading the worship and Rachel addressing the congregation. Rachel had already been with me on the stage to bless the parades and to lay a wreath, clearly caring about what she said, recognising the courage and convictions of those six men.
And the address was about the theme for the Presidential year – “Holiness and Justice”. We heard Micah – “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, Love Kindness and walk Humbly with your God”. We live in unsettled times, what with Brexit, political turmoil, emergent racism and the threat of terrorism, remembering the horrible events in Nice just a couple of days before.
Micah lived in troubled times as well, and so then and now, people of faith need to be reminded of the covenant, and what those words of Micah mean. We need to love as God loves – not problematizing the poor, but seeing the world as God sees it and doing what is needed to put things right. It’s what Micah was talking about. Jesus amplified it, and the founders of the Methodist Church – The Wesleys – put it very much in to practice, too.
I came away from Tolpuddle thinking that the incoming Prime Minister has made some promising statements about how she sees things, about how difficult life can be for people. Maybe things will change. But she needs to be held to account, which needs a strong opposition. The Jury is out as to whether that is the labour party at the moment, although many people have very strong views on both sides.
In the quest for Justice, the Churches can provide that opposition, that scrutiny, too!
Contact David Wrighton, Team Leader, E-mail: email@example.com