Recollections

by
07 March 2014

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Hilary Russell writes:

FURTHER to your obituary of Paul Goggins (Gazette, 17 January), and Paul Vallely's article (Comment, 17 January): neither commented on his time as National Co-ordinator of Church Action on Poverty from 1989 to 1997. Paul built on the excellent work started by John Battle, extending the breadth of ecumenical involvement in CAP, developing partnerships with secular allies and establishing the credibility of the churches' voice on UK-based poverty.

Paul's service with CAP was marked by two events that not only made a significant impact at the time but also prefigured his priorities and way of working as an MP. The CAP Declaration, Hearing the Cry of the Poor, in 1989, was put together after an extensive period of consultation. It sprang from the urgent concern of Christians who were witnessing our society being driven in a direction that contradicted the Gospel. The Declaration was endorsed by a large number of Church leaders, and attracted wide publicity. It is not often that The Guardian talks affirmatively in its leader column of a statement having "a genuine ring of the Gospel". The National Poverty Hearing in 1996 followed local poverty hearings up and down the country. It assembled an audience of church and secular "great and good", in Church House, Westminster, to listen to people with direct experience of poverty and discrimination. All the hear-ings represented a complete reversal of the conventional understanding of who the experts are.

The Declaration and the poverty hearings were both rooted in a gospel passion for social justice, and a recognition of the need to learn from the expertise of the most vulnerable, in order to gain a proper understanding of the dynamics of marginalisation and social and economic exclusion. Yes, the rest of us need to speak out, but first of all we need to listen, and ensure that there is a platform for the disadvantaged themselves.

Paul sustained these values in his subsequent work. The tributes that have been made to him since, by people of all shades of political and religious views, show that, as Paul Vallely says, "It made him not just a good guy, but also a very effective politician."

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