Dear Dave

Dear Dave,

May I call you Dave? At times (I was at one of your Ask Cameron events a while back) you seem like the kind of chap who happily does no tie and open neck, but back in Parliament on Thursday you criticised another MP for not having a jacket on in the Commons. I’m not quite sure which way you swing on this issue – formal or informal. Let’s try and keep it informal shall we as that’s the best way to have a friendly chat. You can call me Peter, so we’re both treating each other the same way.

It’s been a bit of a week for you Dave hasn’t it? Exactly seven days ago you were waking up considering another day by the pool in the beauty of the Italian countryside. Of course, there had been a few disturbances in Enfield and Tottenham, but nothing that needed you rushing back home. By later on that day however the situation had changed and you jumped on the next (private) jet to rush home to Number 10. Let me be brutally honest – I reckon that if you’d delayed coming back till Tuesday morning you wouldn’t have had a job to come back to, and it was pretty touch and go there for a while as it is. But I’m genuinely pleased that you’re still the Prime Minister this morning. We need you.

I’m also genuinely pleased to hear about the speech you’re going to deliver today about the need to fix our broken society. For far too long it’s been clear that we have a moral collapse in this country and now we are reaping the rewards of our lack of investment in the spiritual fabric of our nation. All the research indicates that when children grow up in single-parent families, or even families where the parents aren’t married, on average they have lower life outcomes then their peers whose parents were married when they were born and who were still married when they left home. These are hard facts and those who seek to deny their validity simply aren’t engaging with the reality of the situation.

So we understand that you have in some senses become enthused by the events of the past week, not so much for a crusade of vengeance against those who committed the acts of anarchy that we saw on our streets last week, but rather that you have reignited your passion to create “a bigger, stronger society” and you now have the political will and momentum to do something about it. All very commendable and many of us will support you in this, but can I offer a moment of reflection before you spring into action after the sound of the starting pistol you intend to fire this morning?

As I reflected late last week on the responses to the riots, one piece of Scripture kept coming back to me. As I heard commentators come on radio and TV blaming this and that factor, arguing that the root causes of the looting were to do with X and Y, I was reminded of that moment in Genesis 3 when, Adam and Eve having sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit, God walks through the garden and asks the pair of them what’s been going on (not that he doesn’t know, but sometimes rhetoric is a useful socio-political device for emphasising a fact already widely accepted, as you yourself will be evidencing this morning).

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Now, we know the old joke – Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the Serpent and the Serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on (ba doom tish) – but the simple truth is that Adam and Eve exhibit the classic human response to sin – it’s someone else’s fault. For Adam it’s Eve’s fault. For Eve it’s the Serpent’s fault. It’s somebody else’s fault and no-one wants to accept the obvious, that it’s nobody’s fault but their own.

This is the heart of Christian spirituality, that sin is our fault. We are all sinners, we are all falling short of the Glory of God, and whilst in human eyes some sins might be worse than others, in God’s eyes its all the same rebellion and it all receives the same consequences – separation from God for eternity. Of course, for those who recognise their guilt, their fault, their sin, there is the wonderful offer of freedom in Christ to those who repent and put their trust in him. He promises forgiveness and transformation, a new life where we can start again and live for something beyond ourselves.( I won’t bore you by asking whether you personally have received that forgiveness – you’ll know if you have and you’ll know if you haven’t).

This repentance and renewal of life is what historically we have called “Revival”. Now, forget most of the nonsense that comes on GodTV and the like about “revival”. What passes for revival on those channels is nothing of the sort. It is cheap sensationalism which mistakes signs and wonders for the real inner regeneration which is the mark of the repentant heart. True revival is the mass realisation that we are sinners, that we need to repent and then doing exactly that. It is an individual act (since no-one can repent for you but you yourself) but it is also a corporate act as we come together to express our need for God and his forgiveness and power through the Holy Spirit. We have seen it in our nation before, in the 18th Century when the travelling preachers arguably saved the United Kingdom from a similar revolutionary path that overtook France. We saw it in the 19th Century with great (Tory I might add) reformers like Wilberforce and Shaftesbury recognising the evils of bonded and child labour and leading thousands in political movements rooted in a repentance for the evils we had perpetrated on the weak and powerless. We have even seen it in the 20th Century with great moments of repentance in Wales and Scotland. The Welsh revival of 1904-1905 had such a profound effect on the working communities of the valleys that many pit ponies became unable to understand their handlers any more since they had all stopped swearing!

This is Revival – not just a political platform but a personal penitence, a recognition that sin is lying at my own door, that I have already let it in countless times and that any change in society begins with my personal life. Your great predecessor Baroness Thatcher once said,

There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.

And this brings me to my point Dave. If you want to get to grips with the problems of society and change the social structures which perpetuate the lack of achievement and vision for some of our neighbours, the change needs to begin in the highest levels of Government. You cannot expect a whole generation to repent of its errors if its leadership are not able to hold themselves to account in a similar fashion. What am I talking about? Well let’s take one example which I raised earlier. We know that family breakdown contributes massively to under-achievement of children and it is laudable to the highest degree to want to keep families together and to produce a moral culture where we find it unacceptable that fathers abandon their families. It’s not the father paying maintenance (or not) that helps his son make the most of his life, it’s having the father there every evening as he goes to bed and every morning when he wakes up.

So the choice for you Dave is clear. If you want (as you should do) the whole of our nation to examine it’s moral framework, it’s societal ethics, you need to demand of our leadership (right up to Cabinet level and down to local government) the willingness to show that they are as responsible for their families as poorer fathers are for theirs. You need to realise that the idea of “one rule for the elite, another for the rest of us” extends far wider than bankers’ bonuses or MPs’ expenses.

Dave, you know where I’m going with this don’t you? If the Government wants to say (rightly) that family breakdown is one of the chief factors behind our failed urban generation, we cannot tolerate engineered family breakdown amongst our leaders. For far too long we have let adulterous politicians carry on as though their personal behaviour had no bearing on their ability to do their job. We let husbands and wives abandon their spouses and children and the only consequence is a bit of tutting in the Daily Mail. It is time to be brutally realistic – if the Government is suggesting that we need to re-emphasise the role of the family and wider kin structures in the renewal of our society, we must ensure that our leadership is iconic of the culture we are trying to support and promote.

I know this is a tough bullet to bite Dave, but you do realise don’t you that without it there will be a philosophical flaw at the heart of any new platform for national renewal. Unless we the fortunate, the powerful, the influential are willing to hold ourselves to exactly the same standards that we know will restore our nation, any project to handle the root issues that now need to be addressed will be fundamentally compromised. It is not good enough for politicians to tell us what the problems are – they now need to recognise that the moral rot lies in all strata of society and that it must be honestly and openly repented of. We are all sinners, we all need to hold our hands up to that sin.

In Him,

Peter (the worst of sinners)

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11 Comments on “Dear Dave

  1. Well said Peter! Sadly there are far too many politicians globally who think they have the answers to society's problems but fail to realize people ignore them simply because the politicians fail to lead by example. If their own lives cannot hold up before careful scrutiny, then how can they possibly expect people to listen and follow their suggestions to reform society?

    We also forget that we don't have to wait for the national or other politicians to tell us the path to follow, we can do something locally. The Lord has put it on my heart to do a teaching series this fall on values (aka Christian, Biblical values). We have a long hard road ahead of us. We have created a society of entitlement to the extent that most young people (amongst others) feel they are entitled to have it all, whether they can earn it or pay for it or not. If not, then just go take it because "I'm entitled to it!"

    We also have to remember that perhaps we are at or near the bottom of the barrel and it won't change overnight. We didn't disintegrate to this level overnight, so we shouldn't expect immediate change. But we need to start now before it's too late and anarchy becomes the norm. We need determination and consistency to renew our national values through personal efforts and responsibility.

  2. >>>>Your great predecessor Baroness Thatcher once said,

    lol! Perhaps if this "great predecessor" hadn't sold off so much housing stock you and others wouldn't now be faced with the bloated inadequacies of housing (and other) benefits?

    Similarly, and whilst I applaud your bravery Peter in blogging about possible Christian support for the death penalty irrespective of what the PC brigade think, I do wish that a Christian and Tory would be willing to discuss immigration and its relationship to a lack of social cohesion. Evangelical churches, in my experience, are just as willing to go along with genuflection to middle-class values (which are in no way automatically Scriptural) and the demonisation of the white working class as the 'liberal' ones. The recent furore over Johan Harri's more (shall we say) slippery journalistic practices obscures the fact that, in claiming that immigrants and aslyum seekers get given flats nobody else wants, he's been peddling lies for years. Of course, it might be true that no variety of privileged middle-class Guardianista would want to live in any kind of coonsil hoosing (how ghastly!), but that's not really the same thing at all, is it?

    Considering recent events and conservative ideology: If Baroness Thatcher is a great predecessor then Enoch Powell was, simply, a secular prophet.

  3. Dare one say that recognising the fascist and so unbritish evils of the BNP, which we all do, does not progress a genuine understandings of immigration issues much?

    I'm not much of a one for patriotism, but the fact that Scotland was "the only european country to never shed Jewish blood" is something to be proud of. And analysing immigration would make more sense than e.g. the Telegraph's attacks on black culture. Jay-Z, for example, raps about going from the ghetto to having a net worth of Half a Billion dollars. If that isn't aspirational, then what is?

  4. A good post, Peter, with which I (almost) wholeheartedly agree. There is much in British culture of whatever class that needs to be fixed, you are so right to point out that this is not just a problem at the lower end of the social and economic scale, but is endemic in the middle and upper brackets, too.

    Although some strides have been made, for example, to adjust the hours at which the Commons sits to legislate, we still have a somewhat workaholic culture that thinks it is OK for MPs to work all hours, to the neglect of their families. Indeed their is pressure to conform to practices common in the business and professional worlds where people work long hours, and the distinction between professional and personal life is frequently blurred. (Modern communication devices like mobile phones and broadband/wifi exacerbate this).

    But while we are blaming modern secular society, let's not forget the tendency to workaholism amongst the clergy, not least in the senior ranks – the "always available" culture that can be damaging to family life. This is quite entrenched and has been for a long, long time. Although you make the claims that "the 18th Century…travelling preachers arguably saved the United Kingdom from a similar revolutionary path that overtook France," and, "reformers like Wilberforce and Shaftesbury [recognised] the evils of bonded and child labour and [led] thousands in political movements rooted in a repentance for the evils we had perpetrated on the weak and powerless," we need to remeber that, for example, one of the greatest of these preachers, the Anglican clergyman John Wesley, had an almost non-existent home life and severely neglected his wife – hardly the model of domesticity we wish to encourage.

    We need to be very careful not to look at the past selectively through rose-tinted spectacles.

  5. The MP's 76-hour summer recess suggests that they are about as "workaholic" as teachers (not a compliment).

    And their entitlement to second homes et all suggests that they have at least some entitlements conducive to a sensible work/life balance that those in the private sector do not.

    You have a good point about clergy working hours tho Simon. Given the inherent pressures of the "on call 24/7" norm and the blurring of work/personal life (are parishioners friends, real or facebook? ) a cynic might say that it's surprising that there isn't more heavy drinking and marital break-ups!

  6. Peter

    A very good post and I would encourage you to publish it somewhere as an open letter. I would suggest however a change of emphasis away from sexual sin and family breakdown amongst politicians, which nevertheless is important. I think that their greedy benefits grabbing has outraged many and led to a great loss of respect, which was already low for politicians generally. What's the difference, morally, between thieving by looting and thieving by defrauding the public purse?

    I would give far more emphasis to the total failure to deal with the damage caused by the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath. Loans and financial guarantees were extended in an emergency to prop up the banks. Nothing has been done to restructure the financial services industry to separate the different types of product (mortgage, retail and investment) from each other and from the high-risk hedge funds. Bonuses have gone on essentially just as before. All that prevents us from another financial crisis right now is that it has scared the banks and they are taking risk more seriously.

    I would argue that the damage done to people's lives by the failure to restructure the financial system has been far worse than from sexual immorality. Millions have lost their jobs and hence had their family lives put under pressure. Deep cuts in public services are now being made while nothing essentially changes structurally in the banking sector. It's far worse than inconsistency – it's a massive 'Up Yours!' to ordinary working people. I believe it is a significant factor in the riots as it is clear that there is one rule for the wealthy and powerful and another one for the rest of us. And it is deeply, deeply immoral!

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