A new year for political engagement

It’s that time of year again. The whirlwind of Christmas is over, the decorations have come down, and we’re back to work – the post-Christmas blues have well and truly set in. It is also the time for contemplation and reflection: how was 2015? What did we achieve? And swiftly following these thoughts are the New Year’s resolutions: how are we going to make sure that 2016 goes better? We start the ambitious new diet or the slightly too enthusiastic exercise regime, we try to give up the bad habits, we resolve to be a better person this year. But what if we used this time to think bigger and look outwards: what am I going to do with my life this year? What change could I bring about?

2015 was definitely a political year. The General Election dominated the first few months, with the TV debates, endless campaigning, and political commentary. The second half of the year also had its political excitement, with Jeremy Corbyn being elected leader of the Labour Party and the hot topics of the refugee crisis and the war in Syria dominating headlines. Christians got involved too – the SHOW UP campaign brought together over 35 different organisations and church networks to encourage Christians not just to vote, but to be more politically engaged beyond the election. Many were inspired to get more involved in the wake of the election, joining political parties and getting stuck into their local communities. We are seeing a growing movement of people eager to serve God in the realm of politics.

This momentum is carrying on into 2016. What if your New Year’s resolution this year was to join in, to get more politically involved? This doesn’t just mean turning up to vote, although there will be plenty of opportunity to do so this year, what with elections for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies, local councils and the Mayor of London, not to mention the distinct possibility that we will see the EU Referendum before the year is out. Engaging with politics can be so much more than turning up to a polling station every so often.

We can often fall into the trap of having opinions on political issues, but never actually doing anything about them beyond Tweeting and ranting on Facebook. We don’t see how we could offer solutions to the problems in a constructive way. We could write to our MP about issues which concern us, we could get more involved in our local communities to see what the problems are and campaign to address them, we could join a political party and work for change from within the political system.

If you’re not sure where to start, one great way to get going is to read Those Who Show Up by Andy Flannagan. This is the book that encourages and challenges people not just to show up to vote, but to show up to be voted for. It is full of inspiring stories of ordinary Christians who have done just that. It provides a compelling argument for political engagement and lots of practical tips for getting started. It has already inspired many to get more involved, to get off the side-lines and onto the pitch, to not just shout their opinions from the distance, but to whisper them from a place of relationship within the political system. Could it inspire you too?

Let 2016 be the year we resolve to continue showing up beyond the ballot box.