Emily Graves spoke with Andy Flannagan about the Show Up campaign

Andy Flannagan
Andy Flannagan

In the vein of combatting voter apathy, the Show Up campaign has been created in response to the growing disillusionment many voters feel towards politics in the UK. There is a growing sense that voting no longer makes a difference. Show Up aims to tackle this by making it clear that our participation is vital. Emily Graves spoke with Andy Flannagan from Christians On The Left and Christians In Politics to discuss his latest book, 'Those Who Show Up' and also the 'Show Up' campaign.

Emily: What is your book 'Those Who Show Up' all about?

Andy: It is a call for us to not just shout from the side-lines. I think as Christians we have always been quite good at doing the campaigning thing, sending the e-mails and the postcards and presuming that it is never going to be us receiving the e-mails or receiving the postcards.

All across the UK the Church is stepping up and it has been the glue in many communities; whether you work with 'at risk' teenagers, Food Banks, or whether it's work with homeless folks, or Healing On The Streets, whatever folks are doing it is an incredible act of service. So often because of these projects we are involved in, we are best placed to represent communities and best placed to actually step up and say: we are seeing these issues, we know what the problems are, so let's address them. Rather than us always campaigning from the outside, we are encouraging folks to actually be political and get involved and join their local parties and get people involved instead of just commentating.

Emily: So I am guessing that is why you decided to write the book in the first place?

Andy: Yes, absolutely. Over the course of the last 10 years that I have been involved in the political world, I have seen Christians getting involved and they have been so effective. I have seen the salt and light thing really working. It is really quite incredible; folks like Gavin Shuker from Luton, who was one of the young people I was working with when I lived in Luton and going to Cambridge University; he's from a Comprehensive school in Luton, but was feeling the call to plant a church and he talked a stack of folks from Cambridge in to come into Luton. Cambridge students don't usually move to Luton, but they planted a church there to serve the community. The last nine or 10 years they have been doing that; working with students; working with homeless folk; working with those involved in the sex trade and seeing growth in their church, but as they have done that they have realised - we could keep coming back every summer to help look after these issues, but actually we need to be involved in the decisions. Some of the loopholes that are creating these problems and some of the wrong legislation that is creating these problems and so Gavin joined the Labour Party. Then the expenses scandal happened and the then MP lost her job, so long story short in 2010 a 28 year old church leader was elected as MP for Luton South.

As Christians we don't often know those stories. I say to folks all the time that if you turn up on time for a local political gathering, if you do what you say you will do before the next meeting; if you bring even a shred of creativity or optimism then you are straight away in the top 5%. As local political operatives the salt and light thing works and I see it happening; people shine out and I would just be encouraging folks to grab the book, grab the website christiansinpolitics.org.uk and read some more of the inspiring stories that might inspire you to get stuck in as well.

Emily: Why is politics important to you?

Andy: I think politics is important. We talk about loving people; love your neighbour as yourself, but how do we love ourselves? We love ourselves by a whole range of attitudes and disciplines that keep life on the road. We feed ourselves and clothe ourselves; we have an NHS number; we have a National Insurance Number; we live in houses and we interact with other people. We love ourselves in a whole manner of different practical ways, but then we reduce loving our neighbour to just peripheral stuff, by just making sure they have signed on the line and become a Christian, when it means caring for all that other practical stuff for them too. So if I do love my neighbour Marie in our estate block here then I care whether she can get public transport; I care when she can see her GP and I care whether she can have protection from the scam artists that call at her door. You know I care about these things, but those are political things; those things need political decisions and so it's very hard for us to say we love our neighbour and at the same time say, "I don't care about politics". I think if you care about people you have got to care about politics.

Emily: So who has influenced you the most to encourage you to 'show up'?

Andy: I think a guy called Andy Reid who is the MP for Loughborough in the last couple of parliaments. Andy is a very inspiring character who wore his faith on his sleeve and did a lot of work, working with Christians from other parties as well. Andy was the first MP who I was able to sit in his 'Surgery', see the sort of problems he dealt with, see the wide range of problems that an MP has to deal with, but also see some of the incredible work they can do to actually solve some of the simple problems that people have that really make a difference to people's lives. That is the sort of stuff that you are not going to read about in the newspapers, about them helping someone to get planning permission; helping endorse a local business; or sorting out something to do with any strife in the town. Those are the things you are not going to read about in the newspaper because the newspapers have a vested interest in only printing what's tragic and scandalous. What I saw up close was how useful the job could be and also what a hard job it was. I think I was more and more believing that it was an important role and especially important for Christians to be involved.

Emily: Who is the book aimed at?

Andy: It's aimed at anyone, but I think I have said in one of the chapters, "If you don't care about your neighbourhood, then probably this is the wrong book for you". If you do believe that and you are involved with your community I guess it's an encouragement to those who are already rolling up their sleeves and getting involved that for some of us we need not just be the good Samaritan on life's road-side; not just treating the victims of a sick system, but actually getting involved and seeing changes to the system itself. We can see justice and righteousness in the system. Desmond Tutu said, "We need not to be pulling bodies out of the stream, we need to be going upstream to see who is pushing them in". The Church in the UK could get stuck as the nation's paramedic for the next 50 years and you are just stuck solving the problems created by a rooky system and we need to be involved and see a change in that system.

Emily: Some people may see everything that's going on in the papers and on the TV and think they can't make a difference in politics today, but as Christians why should we take an interest and have our say?