On David Cameron, pigs and my own foolish youth. 

When I was not much older than 17, I stood with a group of other lads my age and ridiculed some poor soul for the clothes they had shown up wearing to a non-uniform day. I can’t even remember their name. I do remember, however, that I had come to school that day worried that I’d suffer the same fate. All I wanted was to be either anonymous or popular; being the joke was not an option.

I felt so vulnerable at moments like that, as if the whole world depended on fitting into a group. I would often be anxious about going to school. What if, all of a sudden, nobody liked me anymore?

The older I get the more I realise that this is a widespread phenomenon. There are millions of us getting up afraid of being unloved by those we will encounter that day. We wake up and wrap ourselves in clothes to hide our flaws and show off our best bits. We groom ourselves and pack our bravado, brilliance and banter into our bags and head off to face the world. We are still 12 years old, heading to high school hoping someone will be our friend. We still live as if our entire worth is dependent on fitting in and making the right joke at the right time.

I think of the stag dos and nights out of my past; the parties and the lads nights and cringe with embarrassment. I think of the jokes I’ve made, desperate for the approval of the group. All machismo and chest beating and terrified that nobody will laugh. Somehow, my worth depends on it.

Now imagine that for your whole life you’ve been groomed for greatness. Imagine that your future career actually depended on moments like these. You’re surrounded by expectation and you must live up to it. Imagine you’re 18. Imagine you’re away from home and just in need of some real friends, as terrified as the day you first went to boarding school. Will anybody like you?

I have no idea what it is like to grow up in a super-wealthy, elite world. I don’t know what having access to seemingly endless excess is like. I also don’t know how I’d have behaved at 18 if all my peers had been in Bullingdon or Piers Gaveston. There are some things I like to think I wouldn’t have done but there are some things about which I am not so sure about the choices I would have made.

What I do know is that at 18 I was frail and scared at uni. I felt alone and disconnected and nobody knew it. I did things that I can’t imagine ever doing now. The desperation of youth is a powerful thing.

I don’t think we should ignore the pasts of our leaders but nor do I think the foolishness of youth should be held against a middle aged man, even when it’s as foolish as this weeks papers allege.

It’s been sad to see fellow left leaning Christians joining in the mockery of the Prime Minister. Anger against what we deem cruel policies against the poor seems to be spilling over into revenge. I feel sad for Mr Cameron’s children who have to go to school this week.

It’s easy to mock the powerful and rich. We show our compassion to the poor and weak. We take time to understand their situation and the pressures that push them to bad decisions. That’s what Jesus did right? He had compassion for the weak and voiceless.

But we also have to do work through Jesus response to people like Zacchaeus and Nicodemus. These two men who by profession oppressed people. One oppressed people financially under duress the other religiously through building a religious system that it was impossible to stay pure within for normal person. He showed them as much grace and as much love as he did the others.

So as we rightly petition on behalf of the weak and marginalised may we remember that even within the most powerful man in our country has lived a scared boy surrounded by his peers being egged on to acts that appall us.

May we afford him the same grace which we afford the teenage versions of ourselves and continue to passionately debate and question his policy in place of dragging up his distant past to laugh at with our leftie mates.

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2 thoughts on “On David Cameron, pigs and my own foolish youth. 

  1. Cannot but agree. The truth is that we are all flawed

    So the same man who in 1940 wrote Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few, also wrote in 1920 that Gandhi “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back”

    Yet it is the former that is remembered. This speech was a great inspiration to the embattled United Kingdom during what was probably its most dangerous phase of the entire war in 1940.

    We see this flawed nature too in the diaries of Field Marshall Alanbrooke who in 1944 wrote

    … “And the wonderful thing is that 3/4 of the population of the world imagine that Churchill is one of the Strategists of History, a second Marlborough, and the other 1/4 have no idea what a public menace he is and has been throughout this war! It is far better that the world should never know, and never suspect the feet of clay of this otherwise superhuman being. Without him England was lost for a certainty, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and again … Never have I admired and despised a man simultaneously to the same extent. Never have such opposite extremes been combined in the same human being.”

    So just as we are all flawed so to are those elected to serve us whether those serving as a constituency MP or those called to serve as ministers of state.

    Winston Churchill was 65 when he first took up the role of prime minister. He was in his 70’s as leader of the opposition. He later served again as Prime Minister 10 years later at 76 and carried on until he was over 80. Yet somehow Corbyn is considered by some too old for either role.

    Corbyn like Cameron will have said and done many things that he later regrets but also did many things that we would now admire, for example his support for Mandela. Yet sadly here too, rather than focussing on policy, his personal life is paraded in the media.

    On the day of very significant reductions in child tax credits all we see in the media is Corbyn berated for not singing the national anthem.

    We have access to manifold wisdom yet fail to use it to address the issues we face. Since Winston Churchill’s time we have seen massive change in society, people living longer, an almost seismic change in the structure and stability of families, and a massive increase in the proportion of the population experiencing debilitating long term health conditions.

    It is our failure to address these issues that leads to the poor being ever more marginalised.

    In a world that just focuses on the personal we lose our ability to use our common sense to look at the numbers behind what we do. Churchill did not do that well at school but he was good at maths.

    Looking at the common sense maths might have enabled us to avoid the worst excesses of the 2008 crash. It was Churchill who warned of the dangers of land speculation – value accruing not through productive gain but simply ownership. He advocated a tax on such gains. How many more affordable homes been built in the last 35 years had such gains in the land on which our houses sit been taxed even at 20%?

    Derek Wanless warned in 2002 that we would face ever increasing health costs unless we improved our health and well being. Health costs have risen by £50bn since then, costs even rising by £18bn during the coalition government and set to rise further still. The Cambridge Relationships Foundation estimate that family breakdown costs us £50bn a year. Our failure to look at the pension age seriously until now has led to pensions costs increasing by £21bn in the last 5 years.

    Our failure to address these issues has led to support to families and children through income support, benefits and tax credits falling from £21bn to £15.5bn and set to fall further. How much more support might we have been able to give to families had health costs only gone up by even £10bn less than it has? How much more investment might have gone in to prevention and early intervention to improve family stability rather than seeing this halved over the last 5 years with the inevitable increase in children taken into care.

    We see occasional reference to these issues in the media but not the sort of serious debate that one would now expect given over half the population is now going to university and should have more manifold wisdom than those of Churchills era.

    Churchill rehearsed his famous speech Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few, with Hastings Ismay. Churchill’s first phrasing of this now famous sentence had read, ‘Never in the history of mankind have so many owed so much to so few’, until Ismay said ‘What about Jesus and his disciples?’

    Just as Churchill was moved by this reminder one can hope that others might be too. That we might remember that we are all flawed. Before we look at the speck in others eyes we might remove the plank from our own that we might see more clearly what we need to do to address the real issues in our society.

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