Dear Mr Morris,
You may recall that on 21st May of this year I emailed a letter to you with regard to your reported comments about Morecambe Bay Foodbank – specifically that it was “set up and run by the Labour Party”. This concerned me, as I knew it was not true, and I was concerned that if that rumour gained traction, it could discourage people of other political persuasions from donating and volunteering. I am a Trustee of West End Impact, another charity addressing some of social needs in the most deprived areas of our town, and I know how key the goodwill of the public is in supporting our work.
I know the remarks attributed to you to be incorrect, because my wife, Debbie, when working as County Ecumenical Officer for Churches Together in Lancashire hosted a lunch here at the Rectory. People present included Rev Peter Brown - the minister of Brookhouse Methodist Church, Rev Stephen Poxon – then District Chair for the North Lancashire District of the Methodist Church, and Deacon Eunice Attwood – the 2010 Vice President of Methodist Conference (the national governing body for the Methodist Church in Britain).
At that lunch, Peter shared his vision for starting up a foodbank at the old Central Methodist Church, and how they were negotiating with the Trussell Trust in taking that forward. I remember the conversation well, as I encouraged him to build links with others doing similar work, such as West End Impact and Morecambe Homeless Action.
The text of my original letter is included for your reference. I made it an open letter, posted on my blog, as I wanted as many people as possible to be reassured that Morecambe Bay Foodbank is not an organ of the local Labour Party. Indeed a local minister thanked me, as they have some Conservative voting members in their church who are very active charitably and regularly take food to the Foodbank. They had been rather alarmed by what you said, and were only reassured when they were able to read my reply.
My reasons for writing now are two-fold. First of all, I am disappointed that you haven’t yet replied to my original letter and that you haven’t issued a public correction for the remarks attributed to you by The Visitor. The second is that I gather a new piece on the issue has appeared this week in Private Eye. The only contact I have initiated with the media about this issue was a follow-up letter in the Visitor, summarising what I said and pointing people to my blog. I was also aware that the Church Times showed a brief interest in the story. The unexpected reappearance of the story in the ‘Eye’ has prompted me to contact you again.
Can I encourage you to resolve this matter by meeting with the Foodbank team? I visited soon after I sent you the first letter, and I have seen the hard work they do, the painstaking records they keep, and have also spent time chatting to clients, including an ex-para with acute PTSD. I have also seen a copy of the letter Rev Peter Brown sent you, inviting you to visit, and would strongly encourage you to accept.
Responding to the needs in front of our noses and at our doors is central to the work of these charities and volunteers, and I’m proud that churches are at the forefront of this in Morecambe. As our MP, I would have hoped that you might want to celebrate and affirm constituents who freely give their time and energy. Working in this area also means that we have questions and uncomfortable truths for the politicians who set policy, which arise from our work. However, that doesn’t necessitate you treating the foodbank as hostile. As Robert Key, Conservative MP for Salisbury 1983-2010, and trustee of the Trussell Trust wrote recently “The … task for some in Government is to stop pretending that food banks are left-wing, anti-government troublemakers” *. I think his advice is worth listening to.
* Robert Key: Six ways the Government can tackle poverty and work with food banks. Published on Conservative Home website http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2015/07/robert-key-six-ways-the-government-can-tackle-poverty-and-work-with-food-banks.html