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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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‘It wasn’t about agreeing’ - experiencing the Big Conversation

Monday, June 7, 2004

Article for Christian Socialist Magazine - June 2004


Politics is often seen as being too adversarial and this can put off many people, including people of faith who are perhaps used to discussing matters in a more co-operative and reflective way. So for me the Big Conversation has provided excellent opportunities to encourage this approach. People used to robust political meetings came along and were surprised to find themselves having a conversation. It wasn’t about agreeing, it was about discussing complex and difficult issues that face us all.


Since my election nearly 200 constituents have written to me about issues of trade justice so I invited a number to discuss the concept of an ‘international community’. About 30 people attended and we broke into groups, each being given information and questions from the Big Conversation document. Rather than a debate where people felt they had to defend fixed views the groups explored the complexities of trade and international security, and the organisation of the United Nations (UN). Afterwards a party member told me he had expected pre-determined views to be advanced and was pleased to see open discussion about issues of importance.


One of the ways I have been keeping in touch with constituents is by regular meetings with leaders of faith communities. Two years on we have a lively group of Christians, Quakers, Muslims and Unitarians meeting two or three times a year. It seemed only natural that I should hold an event to discuss the topics ‘international community’ and ‘tackling child poverty’. The discussions ranged widely and one constituent commented she felt it had really lifted her out of day-to-day thinking.


With a Further Education College in the constituency I held a lunchtime drop-in session for students. The young people chose to talk about education, but also wealth distribution both nationally and internationally. They all agreed that greater political education in schools and college was needed. Two street stalls have provided opportunities to talk about anti-social behaviour and have shown how much new street wardens are valued, and the levels of concern about drug use on local council estates.


I’ve yet to hear a bad word about the Big Conversation from anyone who has taken part. If we’re serious about finding new and better ways to engage directly with our electorate then this has a lot to recommend it. I’m going to suggest that when the Big Conversation is over the party should continue such events under the heading ‘Still talking?’ which perhaps more accurately for parliamentary representatives should mean ‘Still Listening’.


Meg Munn


Why not take part at www.bigconversation.co.uk                                                                     

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