“… The proper question to ask, is what would be the modern equivalent of Wilberforce’s crusade [against the slave trade]. Which political campaign today would replicate the scale of the task he took on? It would have to be a practice so woven into the economic life of the nation that its abolition appears impossible. It would also have to be an institution that is defended as an unpleasant but pragmatic necessity. And opposition to it would have to appear almost childish in its idealism… an expedition to cloud-cuckoo land.
“Few existing campaigns would fit, in part because they’re already too far down the road. The battle for Third World debt relief is essentially won - even if the application still requires Wilberforcean persistence. The protests against genocide in Darfur are a matter of getting governments to do what they know to be right, rather than persuading them that their understanding of right and wrong is flawed. And the campaign against the renewal of Trident is too well supported in Parliament to supply the quixotic odds that are a mark of Wilberforce’s long, gruelling battle.
“The best candidate I can think of would be to propose that Britain abandon all involvement in the arms trade - from handguns up. Couldn’t possibly be abolished, the government would say - thousands of British jobs depend on it (just as they said of the slave trade). If we didn’t profit from it, they would argue, far less responsible nations would get rich filling the gap (just as they said of the slave trade). It would, they might conclude, gravely imperil the national interest (just as they said of the slave trade). If you want a share of Wilberforce’s glory, that’s what you have to imagine taking on - rather than signing up for a battle won 200 years ago.”
in The Independent, 27 March
That’s what I call being right on the moral money.