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Why politicians should not be afraid to talk about marriage

The Fifth William Wilberforce Address

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce was driven by the idea that every man and woman on earth possesses infinite dignity.

Made in the image of God, every person matters.

Wilberforce believed that every person who ever lived bore the imprint of eternity.

This idea burned within Wilberforce and inspired his whole life.

The evil trade in slaves most offended his belief in humanity.

In Parliamentary debates he described the terrible waste of life caused by thousands of slaves being transported across oceans in cramped and disease-ridden ships.

Wilberforce believed that all human life was cheapened by the treatment of slaves.

He saw a close connection between the slave trade and the inhuman treatment of many children in Britain's major cities.

William Wilberforce stood up for his beliefs despite the hatred and ridicule poured upon him.

For more than forty years he faced powerful vested interests but never wavered in his fight against the obscenity of slavery.

The infinite value of every person

I want to dedicate this Fifth William Wilberforce Address to the same idea that inspired Wilberforce two centuries ago.

My politics are drawn from the eternal Christian principle that every individual person is infinitely valuable.

But this is not the whole story.

Christianity is also a religion of community with love of God and neighbour at its heart.

Without community, individuals are fractions of themselves.

We cannot fulfil our humanity without the help of others - or without helping others.

Solidarity with others comes from - and creates - community.

By community I do not mean the state.

I mean each of us - and all of us.

We are commanded to love our neighbour.

And that responsibility cannot be surrendered to the state.

Each of us has responsibilities as parents and neighbours that only we can fulfil.

People cannot fulfil their humanity when their responsibilities are taken from them.

Some people believe that a bigger role for government is the only way to compensate for the weakness of society's free institutions.

But this belief risks feeding a vicious cycle of family and community breakdown.

Because the increased power of the state is not just the wrong solution - it is at the very heart of the problem.

A bigger and bigger state crowds out people and undermines the natural institutions that generate our society's wealth and values.

This doesn't mean government has no part to play.

Government's role is to serve - not to control.

Conservatives believe in strengthening the relationships within society rather than increasing the power of the state.

I believe in trusting people, not politicians.

Tonight, I want to share these beliefs and talk about how they relate to three fundamental policy objectives:

the strengthening of the family;

the renewal of society; and

international poverty relief.

Strengthening the family

The most fundamental institution of any free and sustainable society is the family.

Within the family children learn about friendship, sharing and forgiveness.

Children's other-regarding instincts are strengthened so that they inform and condition their instinctive self-regarding instincts.

Through the memories of parents and grandparents, children gain a unique sense of identity.

Wisdom and wealth flow down the generations.

Much of the joy of being a parent or grandparent is knowing that our life's experiences have been given to our children.

At a material level, parents work and save not only for themselves but for their children's futures.

The overwhelming benefits of family stability were powerfully documented by Jill Kirby in her Broken Hearts paper.

Jill's work makes it clear that a whole range of social challenges will defeat us if we do not strengthen the family.

If vulnerable young people are ever to escape from the conveyor belt to crime they need better parenting.

If we are to maintain an educated workforce, children need to be raised in homes where learning is encouraged.

If we are to renew community life, families must become strong enough to look beyond their own needs.

As a society we must help families to flourish.

But our society is not helping families.

The tax and benefits system is actually weighted against the family.

Such discrimination needs to be addressed by politicians.

But some politicians are frightened of even talking about the family.

But marriage is not less valuable to children and society just because people often struggle to live up to the ideals of marriage.

Politicians' relationships fail in the same way that relationships sadly fail in the rest of society.

Some politicians avoid using the 'M' word as if it was some kind of social expletive.

But society won't give extra help to single parent families by failing to give any support to married couples.

80% of young people still aspire to marriage but find that aspiration difficult to realise.

Most families in Britain do still succeed and stay together.

Conservatives cannot truly claim to be the party of aspiration if we do not support the popular aspiration to form lasting relationships.

Governments already support a range of aspirations that are good for individuals and wider society.

Starting a business, saving for the future, or studying for a career.

These are all incentivised in various ways.

Why, then, is support for the aspiration to raise the next generation so inadequate?

Couples who seek support for their relationship - or parental education - should have access to it.

Of course, Government cannot provide such help itself but it can resource those who do.

I am also determined that we should learn from European countries that do not take hard-working families for granted.

They have created tax and benefit systems that recognise the social benefits of marriage.

It is, of course, true that many people do not make a success of relationships in which they once invested so much hope.

Often these relationships fail for reasons beyond people's control.

Being the party of aspiration does not mean that we should not help these people and their children.

Any government I lead will be fully supportive of lone parents.

They need all of our help.

There is such a thing as society

The family is society's most basic unit.

But society also includes faith communities, voluntary organisations, local schools, and public service professionals.

Society is defined by the civilities, traditions and institutions that bind people together and prepare them for the future.

At my party conference I announced ways in which all of the institutions of society can be strengthened.

Faith-inspired charities have a remarkable record of tackling social challenges.

Conservatives want to help them and other voluntary organisations.

We are already preparing a Voluntary Society Bill that will be one of the first enactments of the next Conservative Government.

The Bill will contain proposals for helping Christian and other faith-based social entrepreneurs.

One of its primary purposes will be to ensure more public money reaches diverse, innovative and locally-based community groups.

And it is work we will advance now in Conservative local authorities.

Schools are at the heart of local neighbourhoods.

They succeed when their headteachers have the power and flexibility to lead.

Conservatives will give headteachers more freedom - particularly over vital disciplinary matters.

And we will give parents the opportunity to establish new schools - at the taxpayers' expense - if they are not satisfied with existing provision.

This will give voluntary groups and faith communities unprecedented opportunities to establish schools that reinforce the values of a child's home.

Morale amongst society's public service professionals has never been lower.

Their enthusiasm and dedication is being drained by a system that attempts to micro-manage their work and that prevents them from actively serving local people.

Conservative reforms will be focused on ensuring that healthcare, education and policing are delivered on a human scale.

Conservatives will champion localism.

When we talk about decentralisation - it will not be to a new tier of politicians and bureaucrats.

Instead, we will set free professionals and local communities.

International poverty relief

But it's not enough to focus all our efforts on problems at home when the challenges of the world's poorest countries are so great.

The parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that people outside of our borders are still our neighbours.

Our neighbour is not just the person who lives in the next house or the next street - although we do have a special duty to them.

Civilisation, as a whole, is diminished when a child dies from malnutrition or from a curable disease.

The old ways of fighting third world poverty may have failed but this is no excuse for walking away from our responsibilities to our neighbour.

Conservative international development policy must be informed by a rediscovery of the same principles that are reshaping the Conservative Party's domestic agenda.

We must invest in those institutions that build people up.

In the past, much aid expenditure has been wasted on grand projects when basic needs like women's health and education were being neglected.

Massive construction projects have at times damaged the natural environment because of insensitive applications of technology.

Many development charities have pioneered new approaches to sustainable development and poverty-fighting.

These approaches are at their most successful when they work on a human scale with local charitable and community groups in the countries concerned.

Again, success is rooted in trusting people.

Small loans entrusted to women and families often produce spectacular results.

More of the UK's development budget should be spent through non-governmental organisations.

Through our commitment to help the world's poorest we strengthen our humanity in practical and profound ways.

Our moral character and national self-interest come together.

Extremes of poverty breed the failed states of tomorrow and these states, in turn, breed terrorism, drugs trafficking and hazardous patterns of migration.

Effective international development policy will tackle poverty, hunger and disease in the third world.

At the same time it will protect the global environment and enhance our security.

Listening to Britain's Churches

I hope that all of the Christian groups represented here tonight will be able to play a part in the development of Conservative policy in these crucial areas.

Many of you here have contributed to the CCF's Listening to Britain's Churches' consultations and, I hope, have witnessed how the Fellowship has already represented your views to the Conservative Party.

The days when politicians could simply announce policies to a waiting world and then impose them upon people are over.

I have spent much of my first year as party leader learning from people in the frontline of Britain's public services.

This is the second week of a three week tour that is taking me to every part of Britain.

Last week I visited a number of schools and community projects - amongst them two inspirational Christian initiatives.

In Manchester, last Monday, I visited the Message Trust and a few days later, in Cardiff, I spent time with Care for the Family.

Both prove that people of spirit can overcome the deepest and most intractable social challenges.

And fundamental to their work is the same high view of the human person held by Wilberforce.

Later this evening I will be meeting the members of the Conservative and Churches Standing Committee.

I thank its existing members for their work and welcome three new members.

The respected Catholic commentator Christopher Graffius has kindly joined the Committee.

Christopher is a keen student of Catholic Social Teaching and I greatly look forward to his input.

Canon Andrew White of Coventry Cathedral is the Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy to the Middle East.

Without taking sides he has played an invaluable role in the region.

Most notably in negotiating a peaceful end to the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Bishop Joe Aldred is my third appointment.

Bishop Joe has been helping vulnerable people to lead more independent lives throughout a lifetime of pastoral ministry.

He is also an articulate representative of Britain's fast-growing Black Majority Churches.

In coming months - through Bishop Joe and others - I hope to learn much more about Black Churches' leadership of many community crime-fighting projects and the provision of supplementary education to disadvantaged children.

Society versus the state

For at least two decades political discussion has been distorted by a false analysis of the way we live.

A zealous individualism was frequently seen as the opposite of the state when, in reality, both tend to feed each other.

A lonely individualism cuts people off from the people-sized and values-generating institutions that build a compassionate society.

A lonely individualism paves the way for a bigger state to pick up the pieces of neglected children and broken communities.

Conservatives are embarked upon a journey of rediscovering our deepest beliefs.

The values and institutions of society have been neglected by politicians.

My mission is to renew their strength and vitality.

My mission is to ensure politics serves the British people and their way of life.

Political service

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor recently said of the democratic political system:

"It needs people of the highest integrity and ideals to bring to fruition the principles upon which it is based - principles of fairness, freedom, mutual respect, democratic accountability."

Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament before he became a Christian.

When he found his faith he almost gave up his seat.

Like so many enthusiastic believers he considered becoming ordained.

But he was persuaded to stay in politics by John Newton, the writer of Amazing Grace.

Before becoming a Christian, Newton had been the cruellest of slave traders.

Newton persuaded Wilberforce to stay in politics and champion his Christian views in parliament.

That is my invitation to you today.

There has never been a better time to be politically involved.

The democratic opportunities within each of the mainstream political parties are enormous.

Political service is a noble expression of an individual's commitment to his or her neighbour and to the common good.

William Wilberforce changed history with his parliamentary battle against the evil slave trade.

There are still great battles to be fought today.

The battle to give every child a home where they are loved and feel secure.

The battle to free our streets of crime and drugs.

The battle to create a society where people of every faith, background and colour are welcomed.

Timeless ideals have been ill-served by failed ideologies.

But there is no room in the Christian worldview for despondency.

People can make a difference in politics just as they can in their families and communities.

Perhaps a twenty-first century Wilberforce is sitting in this room tonight.

Following in that great man's footsteps is a worthy calling for any Christian.

I leave you with that challenge.

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