“What price a modern mission impossible?”

by Kim on March 28, 2007

“… 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.”

Thomas Sutcliffe
in The Independent, 27 March

That’s what I call being right on the moral money.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }


Richard 03.28.07 at 6:55 pm



Sarah 03.29.07 at 5:31 pm

I got a copy of this article from my parents housegroup this week, it really made me think. We all automatically assume we’d be on the side of the good guys, its common sense! But hindsight is a wonderful thing..

It also highlights the scale of the victory won by Wilberforce and his fellow campaigners, for which we can only be thankful.


John Cooper 03.29.07 at 7:15 pm

A few things spring to mind from the article really

i) The idea the debt battle has been won is incorrect, what has been conceded is that the church groups etc have won the moral battle.
Everyone, within uk development policy admits that to a varying degree. the problem comes with putting the nice words into action, still a handful of the countries who need it have been given debt relief. Let us not give up on this issue and still persue the idea of a year of jubilee for all people around the world, cause for now we are still holding them in chains.

ii) I was dissapointed to see that the trident and arms trade debates were seperated from each other. The debate last week claerly left the door open for future governments to pull out of the trident setup, the same argument is be applied to that that is applied to the arms trade.

iii) What a great prospect of not having a governmental supported arms manufacturer. Instead of our taxes funding the murder of people around the world it could be used to fund so many other things. Looking outside of the financial aspect what a positive message it would send to the world.

iv) This links into the last one, is the author trying to say we shouldn’t “buy into” the abolition of the slave trade when I still think there is work done on that. I honestly belive we, as a country, need to apologise for our empire and our economic prosperity being built on the foundations of exploitation of other people, purley based on the colour of their skin. This slave/master ideological battle still exists within parts of the uk and has always done so.

Then again, on an issue like this it would always be mission impossible to write the perfect article, it does kick a*s and provoke thoughts and the reader into action, so I think I’ll remove myself from pedants corner and go out and start doing stuff…



David 03.31.07 at 9:38 am

I think that most of the arguments against slavery can be adapted and applied to the way we treat and eat animals. Speciesism I think it’s called.

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