POLITICS and policy are too important to be left to parliamentarians. That may appear to be a surprising viewpoint from an MP. But while I am a solid supporter of parliamentary democracy I am also keen on citizens coming together to put important issues on the agenda and help change the political weather for the better.
MPs can do much to raise awareness and secure laws that protect and promote people's interests against the power of the state and the market. But peaceful actions taken at the grassroots can also change the behaviour of our private and public institutions for the better.
One of the more interesting movements to do this is Citizens UK which channels the power of faith communities and secular folk too. They see themselves as a fast growing non-political organisation, with several feathers in their cap already.
Citizens UK is led by a North Shields-born social work professional Neil Jameson, who was active in campaigning against excessive interest rates demanded by pay-day lenders. These rates have now been capped at 0.8% daily.
The movement has also been at the forefront of the campaign for a Living Wage, currently set at PS8.45 an hour outside London and whose rates are based on the cost of living. They are determined but polite in winning support and have used imaginative tactics to shame major companies into recognising they need to do the right thing by low paid staff in hotels and restaurants, for example.
They bought shares in some companies and raised the issue in shareholder meetings. They held a massive meeting in the Methodist central hall in London before the 2015 election where they invited all the parties to engage with them and made it clear that they sought long-term relationships with them for the common good.
As a result, over 3,500 employers chose to pay the real Living Wage, which has lifted over 70,000 families out of in-work poverty, winning over PS210 million in additional wages. The North East currently has the lowest number of Living Wage employers in the country.
This week is Living Wage week and I am glad that these canny campaigners and community organisers are setting up shop in Tyne and Wear. Tonight at 5.30pm, about a thousand people from every background, age group and community will fill the Tyne Theatre and Opera House to capacity. They will address a range of issues outlined from inadequate mental health services to the plight of the working poor and the scourge of hate crime.
Faith community leaders, MPs and councillors, and union and business leaders will join the proceedings which will start with a song dedicated to a living wage from the local Backyard Rhythm Orchestra.
They see themselves as inheritors and innovators of the past radical traditions of the North East such as unions, the Chartists and the Suffragettes. They can use meetings and relation-building to sustain a powerful, diverse and permanent alliance of civil society working together for the common good.
They are not Johnny and Jennycome-latelies but have put the graft into building a base here in the North East. Tonight's launch follows three years of meetings by groups in Newcastle, North Tyneside, Durham and Sunderland.
They've taken soundings in communities, colleges and elsewhere, over 1,000 conversations, about the issues facing ordinary people Several hundred people and community groups gathered at Newcastle Civic Centre in September to select the key issues. Mental health topped a list which also included hate crime, the plight of the working poor, safer cities, and a shortage of affordable housing. Tonight's launch assembly will mark the beginning of specific actions to reduce poverty, improve mental health services, and make communities safer.
I believe their community campaigning complements the work of MPs in seeking a better society. Politics is better with them. All power to their elbow. To get involved or for more information contact email@example.com
I am glad that these canny campaigners and community organisers are setting up shop in Tyne and Wear