The day started early. As Robin Williams might have said in Good Morning Vietnam “The 0 in 06:30 is for Oh my goodness, isn’t it early?!”
We met up on Newcastle’s Central Station with CAFOD, Christian Aid and NECAP supporters, all ready to lobby their MPs and share their concerns about how the things they love will be affected by climate change.
Once on the train the bunting was out as we made our intentions known and as we pulled into Kings Cross we searched for the best route to the ecumenical service to be held at the Emmanuel Centre. There we joined with a thousand people of all denominations to pray and hear how climate change is linked to poverty and is development’s greatest enemy. Especially inspiring was Michel, a CAFOD worker from Niger who gave examples of simple ways that our support helps our sisters and brothers. He told us how the farmers are taught how to use rain gauges to tell if there was enough moisture in the soil to germinate their crops and how they were helped to buy seeds that can grow fast in the shorter rainy season.
After the service, we excitedly made our way towards Parliament as it was the first time any of us had been in the building. It looks even more spectacular in real life than on TV. Firstly we stopped to grab a photo of the bunting which had been made for us by the pupils of St. Godric’s school in Durham. Each pennant was colourfully designed to show something they loved that would be changed by our increasingly unpredictable weather.
Then we queued to go through the airport style security and we were into the Central Lobby, full of MPs and their constituents. We were met by Pat Glass and taken into the Stranger’s Bar and out onto the Terrace, overlooking the Thames. At one time the Strangers Bar was known as “The Kremlin” due to the high proportion of Labour MPs in there, however there were MPs from all parties on the Terrace as we pulled up our chairs and got down to the serious business of lobbying. It was quickly clear that we were on the same wavelength. Pat has previously travelled to Kenya with CAFOD and spoke of her experiences there. Having been there myself, I was able to tell her about Ntatia, a mother of eight children who said that when she was small, everyone knew when the rains would come to the week. They would last for six weeks then later in the year the “Long Rains” would come. All predictable and the Maasai organised their lives around the constant pattern of the year. Now, she said the rains come irregularly, heavier but shorter, sometimes they don’t come at all. Her family were saved in the drought of 2009 by a CAFOD partner distributing cows and goats to families in need. Without this help she said that she “saw the end”.
We asked Pat to support our goals, both at home and abroad. We want warm homes for everyone, clean and safe power and protection for people and nature. Globally, we want to see the Sustainable Development Goals, which follow on from the Millennium Development Goals, respond to the threat of climate change and deliver low-carbon development. Climate talks are to be held in Paris in December and we want the UK to support a global goal to phase out fossil fuel pollution by 2050 and move to 100% clean, safe energy. Lastly, we want richer countries to finance clean development by the developing world and help them to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Pat agreed that she was on board with our requests, citing a recent decision taken in her constituency to allow ½m tonnes of open cast coal to be extracted against the background of fossil fuel pollution and despite the opposition of the local people.
We had spent about 90 minutes talking, which was much longer than I had expected and we were winding up when a familiar face appeared and sat at the next table. Dennis Skinner, popularly known as “The Beast of Bolsover” had arrived. I’m sure he was one of those MPs who “The Kremlin” welcomed and as we passed, I said that I had greatly enjoyed his book. Another of our group also shook hands and he sang “Very good to make your acquaintance” to us. I knew that he is a very good singer but it was still a little surreal!
We said our farewells to Pat and walked through the cavernous halls back to the Parliament gardens, but noticed another familiar face. Ed Miliband was speaking to a group of schoolchildren and looking like he was revelling in it.
After handing in our security passes we wandered across Lambeth Bridge to Archbishop’s Garden as we’d heard there were free ice creams to be had. Sadly, we were told that they had run out but after saying we’d come all the way from Newcastle for an ice cream, the lady said that they had no cones but would we like a tub, as it would have to be wasted anyway? Perfect we said, and she gave us some spoons…and a 4 1/2 litre tub of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough. It was like Christmas and a birthday rolled into one! We shared our good fortune with the workers in the park before leaving it with some people having a picnic who were clearly going to enjoy their unexpected treat.
Re-crossing the river, we caught the end of the rally with Arthur Smith and a rousing and thought provoking speech by Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth before setting off to Kings Cross and eventually home at 11pm. A tiring but very enjoyable and worthwhile day out.
If you didn’t make it to London for the Lobby, I’d completely recommend coming to any big CAFOD event. There’s nothing like being in as crowd of like-minded people to energise you. See you at the next one?