I will start with a confession: I didn’t vote last week.

It wasn’t that I was one of the few in Great Britain that missed out on the great tapestry of different polls, nor was it utter indifference to the impact my cross would make. I knew the elections were taking place (in my case, being London based, for Mayor of London and the London Assembly), and I also knew I’d booked a week’s holiday in a countryside cottage almost as soon as it was announced that they would be allowed. What I didn’t know until it was too late to get a postal vote was that the two coincided. 

I think that was the first time I hadn’t made it to the booth and marked my cross beside the candidate or party I was supporting. I was, however, among the nearly six in 10 Londoners who did not vote. There was an equally low voter turnout for local council elections and other mayoral elections in England, while elections for the police and crime commissioners in England and Wales fared even worse. In Scotland, turnout was its highest ever in vote for Holyrood, with 63.4 per cent of the electorate voting; and in Wales, again, the highest in its history, but still lower at 46.6 per cent. 

Voting is an incredibly important part of living in a democratic system, and it is vital that we use our vote to make our voice heard. But voting is not the end of the story: whether or not you voted in last week’s elections, whether or not there were elections where you live, there are opportunities for you to connect with your representatives to build relationships and to help them as they serve the people they represent.


Relationships matter

Politicians are real people who value relationships and thrive when in relationship with others. When ranked according to trust, politicians often frequent the lower reaches of the table alongside estate agents, journalists and bankers, and each news story about sleaze and scandal further erodes our trust. 

This makes it all the more important that we put effort into building relationships and engaging with those who are elected to represent us, at whatever level –local government, regional and national assemblies and parliaments, or in Westminster. During the coronavirus pandemic, the work of MPs, MSPs, MSs and MLAs has been disrupted much like everyone else. Gone is the intense event- and meeting-driven schedules, and instead MPs have often been alone in their offices in Westminster, with staff working remotely, only able to attend debates for which they’re selected. 

As restrictions ease, many politicians will return to having in-person surgeries and taking part in events, so now is a great time to think about how you could build a relationship with your representatives.

Representing to our representatives

MPs and other elected representatives are elected to represent us, but they can only represent what they know. It’s therefore vital that as we build relationships and provide an insight into the issues and areas of concern locally and nationally. Churches have a close connection to communities so there is a bridging role we can play to help politicians know what is happening in their communities. 

We can only expect politicians to accurately represent in parliament what they know, so if we are not able or willing to speak and show what we care about most, it is our responsibility if these matters are not addressed.

Religious literacy comes through relationships

It is easy to criticise politicians for not having sufficient understanding of what Christians believe and how they act. They frequently fail to provide a fair and balanced view on evangelical beliefs, and they don’t understand the importance of our beliefs and the way they influence our lives. 

There is a place for religious liberty training which provides information about what different faiths, and groups within faiths, believe. But this is of limited use. Far greater literacy, and empathy, comes from relationship with people who live out their beliefs. Beliefs need to be demonstrated and not just written in paper. We can help politicians understand what it means to follow Jesus.

Winsome and wisdom

Having worked in an MP’s office, I have seen the correspondence they receive, and some of it is not particularly friendly. Christians are among those who have not always modelled utmost grace with how they raise concerns. We should speak with care and compassion and seek to be a winsome witness to the goodness of God as we engage. As we speak out on policy issues, sometimes what we say may be welcomed and sometimes it might be more contentious. In all cases we should speak with wisdom.

No time like now

In Scotland and Wales, MSPs and MSs have just been returned to parliament, so now is a great opportunity to connect with them. Across the UK, as MPs resume more normal activities, see how you can engage with yours. As churches resume meetings and restrictions ease, it’s perhaps a chance to invite your MP to come along.

Explore our new Connect resources for ideas on how you can engage with your elected representatives in Westminster, national parliaments and local councils.