What difference could you make, during your life, to society? That is the question this assembly asks pupils, with particular regard to the politician Gwyneth Dunwoody whose life and work it remembers
Reader 1: Gwyneth Dunwoody died on 17 April, 2008. She was recently most reported in her role as chair of the House of Commons transport select committee, but, more significantly, was the longest-serving female member of parliament. MP for Crewe and Nantwich, Ms Dunwoody was elected to parliament as the MP for Exeter in 1966.
She was highly respected on all sides of the House of Commons − a woman who was fiercely independent, who always spoke her mind, no matter how uncomfortable and difficult that might be.
Reader 2: Former Labour MP, Tony Benn, gave the following tribute:
‘She was a very remarkable woman and a very powerful member of parliament. She was very strong on certain questions. She took a very independent stance on the European Union and was respected by the House. She was listened to with great attention from the House itself.’
Reader 3: MP Louise Ellman, who worked with Ms Dunwoody for ten years at the transport select committee, said: ‘We have all lost a courageous and fearless woman who spoke up for the ordinary person. She was a brilliant parliamentarian and a genuine friend. She was a campaigner who never stopped until she achieved a result.’
Reader 4: Perhaps more important, those who lived in her constituency have been vocal in their appreciation of how hard she worked on their behalf.
One said: ‘Thank you very much MP Gwyneth Dunwoody for your help, motherly advice, strength and power. You were really great and a hero. We love you and we miss you so much. God bless you forever.’
Reader 5: On 1 May, local and mayoral elections were held in many areas of the country. Local politicians may not seem to be as important as national politicians, but they, too, can make a huge difference to the quality of people’s lives, and many who work at national level in politics learned their trade working for the local council. If you want to extend your house, you will have to apply to the local council for planning permission. School admissions are usually decided by the local council, streets are kept clean, parks cared for, teachers employed. Elderly and frail people are attended in their homes by people who work for the local council. That council, and their policies, can have a huge impact on the quality of our daily lives.
Reader 6: But who are these local politicians? Usually they are people who want to get involved, to stand up for the rights of ordinary people. Local politicians are sometimes retired people who have the time to give back to the community, but they may just as likely be younger people who give their evenings and weekends to caring for their neighbours within this role, possibly with an eye to standing as an MP in a few years time. They undertake this work as volunteers.
When asked why she was a local councillor, one woman responded:
Reader 1: ‘I do it simply to be a voice for people. When many of my constituents come to me they have usually reached the end of their tether on an issue, whether it be parking, education or schools. I support them and often signpost them in the right direction to get the help they need, as well as being their voice on issues, such as planning or trying to save services. What I enjoy most is making a difference. This gives a great deal of satisfaction.
I find politics stimulating and yes-fun! I enjoy being involved in the community in which I live, constantly trying to find ways to improve services for all.’ (Councillor Sharon Massey, Bexley Borough Council.)
While local politicians may not get the tributes of someone with the media profile of Gwyneth Dunwoody, they are nevertheless working in just as important a role. Without local politicians, our lives would all be greatly diminished and the nation would grind to a halt pretty quickly.
Another councillor, with thirty years’ experience, said:
Reader 2: ‘I’ve been able to help people with council-related problems and sometimes not been able to help them. But, being able to speak for people, as well as having an input, has meant real involvement with the community. I’ve made, or participated in, literally thousands of decisions that affect people’s lives and the services they rely on.’ (Councillor Colin Tandy, also Bexley Borough.)
Local politicians are involved with their community, giving, and receiving, from the people they work and live among. National politicians, such as Gwyneth Dunwoody arise from such people, and all make a difference.
What could you do today that would echo this service to this community?
It may be that you already do − perhaps you’re on the school council, or are a prefect (use your own examples here). Perhaps you might like to join a group that works for the benefit of others. You may already belong to such a group outside of school and perhaps could share more widely, to inspire others to join in.
But, at the end of the day, we each get out of life what we are prepared to put into it. And every one of us here today could make a huge difference to the quality of life for those around us, but we have to get involved if we are to achieve that outcome.
Prayer[You might like to substitute ‘Christ’ with the name you use for God]
Christ has no body now on Earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good,
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men, women and children now. Amen (based on Theresa of Avila)
This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2008
About the author: Ronni Lamont