Wednesday, 20 April 2011


A meeting at St Philip's Church this morning with Jon Ashworth, who is standing as Labour candidate in the Leicester South by election. He's asked for the chance to listen to members of different faith and cultural communities in the constituency. A dozen or so people are in attendance, with five faith communities represented. We're joined by Hilary Benn MP, shadow Leader of the House and former Secretary of State for International Development and former Secretary of State for the Environment. Jon Ashworth is in the front and centre of the photo above, Hilary Benn MP behind him.

We were hoping that Sir Peter Soulsby, who is standing for the post of Leicester's first elected Mayor (and who was Labour MP for this constituency until he gave it up to launch his Mayoral campaign), would be here too but he is unable to join us this morning.

After a few minutes of mixing and mingling in the church hall, we take our seats in a circle. Each of us is invited to introduce ourselves, the organisations we work for and communities we represent. Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths, Councillor Manjula Sood, speaks first, introducing the Council of Faiths and St Philip's Centre, which is hosting this meeting. She makes particular reference to the challenge of right wing movements, organisations and parties, historical and contemporary (e.g. National Front, British National Party, English Defence League) and how the settled and new communities of Leicester have responded to these.

There are welcome, if unexpected, tributes to Leicester Council of Faiths, from a few people I haven't met before and whom I wouldn't have thought know much about us and our work. I have to say that the Council of Faiths is given credit for an initiative or two on which we didn't necessarily lead - and at least one that we didn't have anything to do with directly. Even so, the Council of Faiths plays as active a role as we can in creating and maintaining an environment in the city that encourages and sustains such activities.

Of course, we can't keep local and national politics out of the discussion and since there are people here who have personal of family roots in other countries (or who represent others who do), matters of international interest are also raised. At the end of the meeting, Mr Benn responds to some of the comments and concerns we've raised, clearly drawing on his experience as former Secretary of State for International Development and former Secretary of State for the Environment.

I should stress that this was not a political meeting and that the attendance of any of our members or employees should not be interpreted to mean that Leicester Council of Faiths supports any particular political party or any individual electoral candidate. If any of the other by election candidates organise a meeting at which they'd like to meet members of our faith communities, no doubt we will arrange similar attendance, interest and support.

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