As we all know, our prime minister is a serious and moral man, who takes Christianity seriously. We know this because Cameron himself told us so, back in December 2011, in a speech to Church of England members at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, in which he declared ‘ We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so.’
In his speech, His Lordship stressed the cultural and political influence of the Bible on British society. He also addressed the importance of Christian morality in guiding charitable behavior. Approvingly quoting St Matthew’s reference to the ‘least of these my brethren’, Cameron praised the ‘influence of the church that enabled hospitals to be built, charities created, the hungry fed, the sick nursed and the poor given shelter’ in the past as an inspiration ‘ at the heart of modern social action.’
Given these observations, it is something of an embarrassment that in the last few days, the government has come under the most sustained criticism from the two main Christian denominations in the UK since the Church of England addressed the issue of Thatcherite poverty in Faith in the City.
First there was the head of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, four days ago, labeling it a ‘disgrace‘ that the government’s austerity program had forced large numbers of people into ‘hunger and destitution.’
Now 27 Anglican bishops have published a joint statement, published in the Daily Mirror, accusing the government’s welfare reforms of generating a ‘national crisis’. The bishops noted that 500, 000 people were now using food banks, that 5, 500 people were admitted to hospital for malnutrition last year, that one in five mothers are now skipping meals to feed their children, and that more than half of people using food banks were doing so because of ‘ payment delays or punitive sanctions.’
All this, the bishops insist, amounts to an ‘ acute moral imperative’ for the government to act.
Faced with these criticisms, Lord Snooty has argued that he and his governments are already acting according to a moral imperative. On Tuesday, His Lordship addressed Archbishop Nichols directly, in an article in the Telegraph which insisted that the government’s benefits reforms were driven by a ‘moral mission’.
For Cameron, like Blair before him, politics is about ‘doing what’s right’. And ‘doing what’s right’, in the case of benefits, isn’t about the punishment and victimization of the poor and vulnerable for political gain. God forbid. It’s about ‘ giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope – and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance.’
You have to be pretty slick and pretty slippery to argue something like that nowadays. In a parliamentary debate on Atos work capability assessments last September, Michael Meacher condemned the ‘insensitive rigour’ by which 1.6 million disability claimants were being assessed for work. Quoting the government’s own figures, Meacher noted that 1, 300 people had died after being judged fit for work and that 2, 200 had died before their assessment was complete.
Let’s try to pause for a moment and try to imagine that they were instilled with ‘new purpose, new opportunity, new hope’ before they died. Alright, maybe not. And what about those who have taken their own lives as a result of the government’s ‘moral mission?’ Like 53-year-old widow Jacqueline Harris, a partially-sighted former nurse who walked with a cane, who committed suicide in 2012 after she was declared fit for work and lost her incapacity benefits.
Whether Cameron really believes that a system that allows such things to happen is ‘moral’, or whether he simply believes what is convenient to believe, is not clear. But either way, such a belief requires a very selective and perverse notion of morality.
In his 2011speech, Cameron quoted Thatcher’s observation that ‘we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible’ and cited ‘ Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love, pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another’ as the Christian values that he supposedly subscribed to.
In this extensive list, only ‘hard work’ is like to pass muster as a Tory value. Because all the other virtues that he lists are conspicuously absent from a cruel, heartless and vindictive government, whose actions have stripped the concept of morality and the common good of any objective meaning.
No amount of vacuous pontificating about a ‘moral mission’ can conceal that, nor can the Orwellian reversal that presents persecution and victimization as a source of hope and opportunity disguise that Lord Snooty and his Pals are pampered, vicious hypocrites, who will always remain, like the Pharisees, ‘whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones.’