Last night David Cameron gave the annual William Wilberforce Address to a gathering of more than 850 Christians at an event organised by the Conservative Christian Fellowship. When I organised the first Wilberforce Address nearly ten years ago the attendance was only a third of that number. It is a mark of the progress of the CCF under its current director Elizabeth Berridge – and of the star status of David Cameron – that last night’s event was so well attended. The quality of the audience was also high. The Bishop of Liverpool James Jones (and my hope to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury) chaired proceedings and many black church leaders were also present. The Conservative Party needs more organisations like the CCF that represent the party to, in its case, the churches and the churches’ views to the party.
I do not yet have a link to the full text of David Cameron’s speech but here is a key extract:
"The responsibility of this generation is to remember the disgrace of the slave trade – but also to remember the achievement of abolition. In the second half of the 19th century one of the primary tasks of the Royal Navy was to stamp out slavery on the high seas. As John Stuart Mill put it at the time,
"for the last half-century [the British] have spent annual sums equal to the revenue of a small kingdom in blockading the Africa coast, for a cause in which we not only had no interest, but which was contrary to our pecuniary interest."
William Wilberforce was the leader of the Parliamentary campaign – but beside him stood some dozens of activists and campaigners. As he wrote to the Prime Minister when the Abolition Act was passed in 1807, “I am only one among many fellow labourers”.
These fellow labourers were not all British, they were not all men, and they were not all white. I want the campaigners for abolition to be the role models for young black people in our country today. The best legacy of this anniversary would be for today’s black children to say in the future: “The anniversary changed things. That was the time my mother or my father decided to stand for election.”
So don’t think of politics as someone else’s business. Think of it as your business. Think about standing. Thing about taking part. Think about making your voice heard in the councils of our nation.
Today we are not only remembering the slavery of the past. We bring to mind the many thousands of people who are still trapped in slavery, trafficked as labourers, sex workers and soldiers – whether in the developing world or here in the West. The dedication of William Wilberforce and his colleagues is still needed today, and I salute the efforts of modern campaigners to stamp out this vicious abuse of human rights."