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This is what a Social Conscience Sounds Like

March 4, 2009

I just caught the last part of Gordon Brown’s speech before the U.S. Congress. The Canadian and British pundits are, of course, making much of his glowing remarks about how wonderful America is and his constant references to their ‘special relationship’ with Britain.

I was hearing something else, though. I think I noticed it only because, in the midst of all the global economic chaos, it’s something I haven’t been hearing from my own government, and haven’t really been hearing from the Americans either.

It was the sound of a good old-fashioned, British-style, almost Dickensian social conscience.

…So we do not value the wealthy less when we say that our first duty is to help the not so wealthy. We do not value the powerful less when we say that our first responsibility is to help the powerless. And we do not value those who are secure less when we say that our first priority must be to help the insecure. These recent events have forced us all to think anew. And while I have learnt many things, I keep returning to something I first learned in my father’s church as a child. In this most modern of crises I am drawn to the most ancient of truths; wherever there is hardship, wherever there is suffering, we cannot, we will not, pass by on the other side.

It seems like an obvious thing to say in such times – that the wealthy have an obligation to the poor, the powerful to the weak, and that helping the disadvantaged in our own countries and around the world strengthens us all. And yet, it’s a sentiment that has been noticeably absent from the rhetoric of North American leaders as they fret over falling stocks, collapsing banks and the disappearance of consumer confidence.

As if the problem was merely one of economics. As if the poor were merely those suffering from a lack of spending power.

Of course, the reason why Brown’s words were so striking and so unusual to hear spoken aloud in that particular place is that any American politician – or Canadian one, for that matter – who talked that way would instantly be accused of being (God forbid) a SOCIALIST.

Happily, that’s not such a dirty word in England.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. corsullivan permalink*
    March 5, 2009 10:06 am

    It’s nice to find Gordon Brown sparing a thought for the less fortunate, rather than following in the footsteps of both Stephen Harper and Barack Obama and trying to cheer up destitute people by telling them that it’s a great time to buy stocks.

    The problem, of course, is that Brown spent a decade as Tony Blair’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, presiding over the UK economy at a time when the seeds of the present crisis were being sown. Considering the prominence of London as a financial centre, I think it’s hard for Brown to avoid some blame for the way the global economy evolved into an unstable, imbalanced system that worked a lot better for the rich than for poor and middle class people, even before it stopped working for almost everyone.

    Whatever he may have learned in his father’s church, Brown’s social conscience didn’t lead him to stand up to the financiers before it was too late. So are his latest comments sincere, or just more New Labour “repositioning”?

  2. reneethewriter permalink
    March 4, 2009 6:36 pm

    One of your best, GreenJenny. Kudos for your courage. R

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