Letter: No slave of party

Sir: I offer William Wilberforce MP as an inspiration to today's New Labour MPs whose desire and inclination on welfare and benefit reform may be to vote according to their principles, but whose wills may falter in the face of party pressure to think of their "careers" and sentimental appeals to political friendship.

In 1785 Wilberforce helped Pitt draw up a modest Reform Bill which sought to destroy the rotten borough system. In a speech on 18 April 1785 he showed that he already disliked the politics of "party". By destroying the rotten boroughs, he said, "freedom of opinion would be restored, and Party connections in a great measure vanish". He looked to a time "when no Member would vote to please a patron".

He was always prepared to act independently and always put principles before party or other interests. He concluded one letter to an aggrieved constituent: "However you may conceive my opinions erroneous, I trust you will believe that I am not influenced by private friendship or party spirit, but that I am actuated by a sincere regard to the public good."

It is to this man and these principles that we owe the abolition of slavery and countless other parliamentary measures for the benefit of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalised and the enslaved.

His principles and the courage to follow them regardless of the consequences to his political career were inspired, grounded and nourished by his being an utterly committed disciple of Jesus Christ - whose claims far outweighed those of any party leader.

The Rev Christopher Brice


Christian Action and

Response in Society

London SW1