General Election candidates standing in the Bishop Auckland constituency will be challenged to explain how their parties would help communities tackle social deprivation, in a hustings debate organised by the Revd David Tomlinson.
The Labour, Conservative, LibDem, UKIP and Green parties have confirmed their attendance at the event at St John’s in Church Street, Shildon on Monday April 13th beginning at 7pm. The event will be chaired by the Revd David Tomlinson, vicar of St John’s in Shildon.
Beginning at 7pm each candidate will be invited to speak for five minutes on ‘why I deserve your vote’. This will be followed by questions from the floor for 45 minutes to an hour.
The formal part of the evening will conclude by 8:30pm, the candidates will then have the opportunity to mingle with audience over refreshments with the event finishing at 9pm.
News of the debate comes just a few weeks after the House of Bishops of the Church of England expressed the hope for political parties to discern ‘a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be’ ahead of the General Election in May.
The Revd Tomlinson, Vicar of St John’s, said: “This is one of the most deprived areas in the country and a lot of the issues arising from austerity and deprivation present themselves on our doorstep on a daily basis.
“As a church, we work to tackle some of these problems and it is right that election candidates are challenged to say what their government would do to help. It is also right that the church should be involved in this political debate.”
St John’s is a key driver in the Shildon Alive project based at St John’s Church, which runs community gardens and a food aid service among other projects.
The Revd Tomlinson said: “Shildon Alive is about breathing life into a struggling community. We are making our contribution and election candidates should be challenged to say what they are doing.”
His comments echo the pastoral letter from the House of Bishops to the parishes of the Church of England, in which the Bishops urged Christians to consider the question how can we ‘build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?’
The letter encouraged church members to engage in the political process ahead of the General Election and to put aside self-interest and vote for ‘the common good’.
The letter defends the right of the Church to enter into the political arena, saying: “It is not possible to separate the way a person perceives his or her place in the created order from their beliefs, religious or otherwise, about how the world’s affairs ought to be arranged. The claim that religion and political life must be kept separate is, in any case, frequently disingenuous – most politicians and pundits are happy enough for the churches to speak on political issues so long is the church agrees with their particular line.”
Taking part in the Hustings event are: Helen Goodman – Labour, Christopher Adams – Conservative, Thom Robinson – Green, Rhys Burris – UKIP, LibDem – Stephen White.