How faith can shape politics

Catherine West MP gave the 110th Swarthmore Lecture tonight, (Monday) encouraging Quakers to champion the cause of equality in their own communities.

books of the swarthmore lecture
Examining inequality. Photo: Anne van Staveren

She gave the lecture in memory of friend and colleague, Jo Cox MP, murdered whilst doing her job in her constituency last year. “Jo and I shared a faith in the power of politics to make the world a fairer, more equal place, and a conviction that we all have more in common than that which drives us apart," she said.

She addressed more than 1400 Quakers at Yearly Meeting Gathering – the high point of the Quaker year – this time in a packed hall at the University of Warwick.

Her Quaker faith drives her political actions. The essence of that faith is that every life is equal and holy. That leads her to tackle rampant inequality in the world where the richest 62 individuals on the planet have the same combined wealth as the bottom half of humanity, comprising 3.6 billion people. “Advancing the cause of equality is both a political imperative and a spiritual vocation."

For eight years she was leader of the Labour Group on Islington Council and with colleagues she set up the UK's first Fairness Commission.

She takes inspiration from Quakers like Thomas Garrett, campaigning for the abolition of slavery. Also, Ada Salter, London's first woman mayor, municipal feminist and pioneer of ethical socialism. “She is a hero of mine." And young Muslim women from The Dialogue Society in Holloway who handed out roses to commuters in the aftermath of a vicious Islamophobic assault.


Advancing the cause of equality is both a political imperative and a spiritual vocation.

- Catherine West MP


She examined housing, employment, early years, health and income. She urged everyone to work for equality and she said, “If we cannot change what is happening on our street, why should anyone believe we can change the wider world? Politics starts with the local. As Quakers, we should own the challenge of inequality, offering civic leadership in all our communities."

She commended current projects like the national Quaker Living Wage campaign, initiated by Lancaster Quakers and Abolish Empty Buildings started in Bristol by Tony Crofts.

  • On Wednesday, Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West will give the Salter Lecture, under the auspices of the Quaker Socialist Society. She will speak about balancing reason, intuition and conscience in relation to the EU referendum and the war in Iraq and her work in the European Parliament.

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Listen to The Swarthmore Lecture here

Streamed live and available to listen again shortly afterwards.

A book supports the Lecture. “Faith in Politics. A testimony to equality", is written by Catherine West and Andy Hull. Review copies of the book are available from

ISBN 9 781999 726904

Listen to The Swarthmore Lecture