I've been mourning the death of a good man that I was privileged to serve as minister to for eight years. The Right Honourable Albert Edward Booth taught me politics by being a principled politician because he was a Christian.
Justice without honesty, dignity and integrity was no justice at all, so Albert didn't speak of 'them' when referring to the people he tried to serve - whether they were his constituents, or his fellow Church members at Beckenham Methodist. He was frequently disgusted by the 'them and us' political inspeak which actively promotes the culture of tabloid vs broadsheet, Eton vs Lewisham, class vs crass and which portrays society as inevitably, if not divinely, divided by breeding rather than by wealth, education and privilege.
I couldn't help but wonder what he would have made of the current electioneering and Labour's shameful attempts to reignite the class war as evidenced by Brown's most recent dishonest appeal:
“If you, like me, are from Britain’s mainstream majority, from an ordinary family that wants to get on and not simply get by, then my message to you today is simple – take a second look at us and take a long hard look at them.”Does Mr. Brown seriously think that he has anything in common anymore with Britain's mainstream majority? Does he have any idea what it is like to live a life condemned by the political classes to be a permanent social underclass, the cannon fodder for our wars and the disposable factory fodder for our economic engine?
The simple fact is that Labour now NEEDS a working class mentality to exist in order to win this election - but wasn't it New Labour who held out the hope that the class war was over - that they too could flee the council estates, attend university, build a future for their children that did not depend on the dole or lager to make it bearable?
Albert was one of the most honest men I ever met. His faith defined his politics, and he held to the conviction that you MUST love your neighbour as yourself whether they come from the council estate or from one of the gated private residential parks springing up in our outer suburbs. We do this not to get elected, or as a means to any other end. It is simply a part of Christian discipleship. I was proud to march with him for peace and to stand with him as he fought for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in his retirement - not because these were political acts (although of course they were) but because they were the acts of a Christian, committed to serving God, and in so doing, serving the people.
The house is divided, political parties are different - but Albert taught me how crucial it is that we do not allow them to divide society and take us back to the time when there was a perverse pride in being part of an underclass. As a Christian and as a minister, I am part of the privileged class. I have a good education paid for by the Church, I live in a large house on a private estate, paid for by the Church. I am therefore in Mr Brown's language - not part of Britain's mainstream majority.
Like Albert however, I recognise that if it were not for your intervention in my life God, things would be very different.
Help me then, I pray, to play my part in refusing to allow those we pay to represent us, to define or classify us as less than we are - we are YOUR Children - regardless of where we are educated or what we aspire to. Help me play a part in removing labels for votes and exposing the hypocrisy behind some of our politics - so that your vision for our future might find its way past the electioneering, and campaigning.
Albert taught me politics and religion cannot be separated if you are serious about being a Christian and keeping the commandments of Christ. He taught me well.
Right Honourable Albert Edward Booth; engineering draftsman and politician; born Winchester 28 May 1928; Tynemouth County Borough councillor, 1962-1965; Labour MP, Barrow-in-Furness, 1966-1983; Minister of State, Department of Employment, 1974-1976; Secretary of State for Employment, 1976-1979; Opposition spokesman on transport, 1979-1983; Treasurer of the Labour Party, 1984; married 1957 Joan Amis (three sons); Christian, called home on 6 February 2010.