Posted by: stpowen | May 13, 2012

Posh Boys in Politics

In recent days, Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne have been characterized as two arrogant ‘posh boys’ who have no knowledge or concern about the lives of ordinary people.  The charge was originally made by Conservative M.P. Nadine Dorries, but it has been gleefully taken up by various members of the opposition Labour Party.

It’s undeniable that Cameron and Osborne come from very privileged backgrounds. However, does that automatically make them unable to understand the lives of ordinary people or to help them?  The politician who probably did more than any other in history to improve the lives of the poor in Britain was considerably ‘posher’ than any politician today.   He was Anthony Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury.  Although he never held ministerial office,  Shaftesbury was responsible, during the 19th Century, for improving conditions in factories, prohibiting the use of child labour, especially chimney-sweeps, founding many ‘Ragged Schools’ for working-class children, helping the mentally ill, improving sanitation and housing, and making Sunday a day of rest for the poor.  He was President for many years of the London City Mission, and even found time to be the first patron of the RSPCA.  He spent huge amounts of his own fortune on these causes.

What made a man like Shaftesbury care in this way for the poor?  It was the same thing that had led Wilberforce to give his political life to the aboloition of slavery:  a living, evangelical faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Without it, men in power, whether ‘posh’ or otherwise are always likely to look after themselves before anyone else as history shows.   Shaftesbury wrote: ‘Avarice and cruelty are not the peculiar and inherent qualities of any one class or occupation- they will ever be found where means of profit are combined with great, and virtually irresponsible power- they will be found wherever interest and selfishnes have a purpose to serve, and a favourable opportunity.’

I am certainly not in favour of a ‘Christian’ political party, but how we need a Shaftesbury in Parliament today to show up the avarice and self-serving nature of much that passes for politics today!

There is an excellent biography of Shaftesbury available.  Shaftesbury by Richard Turnbull (Lion Books, ISBN 978 0 7459 5348 9).

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