Following the resignation of Tony Blair as Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister last week, I felt it important to write to him, thanking him for his ten years in office. Writing this letter gave me the opportunity to give thanks for some of the changes that have come about during Tony Blair’s time in office, and also gave me the opportunity to be challenged for the future. I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you, as I did with him, and include some of the parts of my letter…
"There is no doubt that the changes made by your government have changed the landscape for churches and other faith groups in the United Kingdom. Many steps have been taken, but those that have affected us most can be listed as follows:
– The 2001 manifesto commitment to increase and encourage partnership with faith groups has brought many more faith groups to the partnership table, engaging them in public service delivery.
– The introduction of discrimination legislation in employment has recognised the need to protect the ethos of religious organisations.
– The introduction of religion and belief as a recognised category of difference into the equality and diversity framework has significantly progressed the discussion about religion and belief as a difference and an identity.
– The fact that the Commission for Equality and Human Rights has a responsibility for religion and belief as a category of diversity is not only a first, but will also continue the important discussion about how religion and belief relate to the everyday issues of equality and diversity.
– The continued development of a more strategic approach to the third sector including the creation of the OTS and the attempts made to move toward more sustainable funding, long-term partnerships and the establishment of clearer, more accessible protocols.
– The establishment of the Academies programme and the consequent engagement in secondary education provision by a number of faith communities strengthening the choice and diversity of educational provision in the UK.
– The recognition of a partnership approach to welfare provision and the significant steps that have been taken in ensuring services are aimed at local people, shaped by local people, and delivered by local people, has completely changed both the language and the direction of the debate when it comes to community cohesion.
Together with many other changes all of the above are beneficial for the development of a just and fair society. They have helped to strengthen both the identity of faith groups and the ability of those faith groups to serve those who are marginalised and excluded. When I compare the landscape of the voluntary sector and faith communities in 2007 to that of 1997, I am amazed by how far we have come."
"We believe that if education and understanding about how and why faith motivates people’s lives is supported in communities, we can look foward to a time when the work of faith groups will be more welcome in society and when faith groups themselves will be concerned not only about a right to their own identities, but committed to behaving with responsibility in society. The privilege of public service and care provision for faith groups must be matched by a commitment on the part of those faith communities to behave as faithful citizens, who uphold the basic tenets of both human dignity and citizenship to Britain. Faith has the power to be a tremendously transformational part of our society, but for that to happen people of faith must be committed to unconditional service and collaboration with others, whilst retaining their own identity. Government must also be committed to full and fair partnership with faith communities."
"As the new Labour Party Leader is elected and takes office, I trust and pray that he will take all the achievements in the last decade and build upon them. Whichever political party holds office over the next ten years, faith communities will continue to play a vital role in urban renaissance, rural renewal, community cohesion, and societal transformation. Without the help, support and partnership of local faith groups such ideals will only be aspirational, but with the help and support of faith groups, I believe that these ideals can become an experienced reality in the lives of millions of people. Once againn, however, a new leadership must be connected to "local churches" rather than only the "institution" of the church. A re-settled welfare state must become a welfare system that embraces the unique capabilities and perspective of faith groups; local churches and faith groups are part of a great armada of service delivery in the UK, and we have much to contribute to a healthy society. The 20,000 members of Faithworks and the churches and projects they represent are a significant part of that armada."
In thinking back and looking forward there has been much to inspire and challenge me – what about you?