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The Bishop gets it wrong over “there is no such thing as society.”

Andy McSmith
bishop 300x225 The Bishop gets it wrong over there is no such thing as society.

Richard Chartres (Getty Images)

The Bishop of London, Rt Rev Richard Chartres, had mixed reviews for his funeral sermon. The original report on the Daily Mail website accused him of ‘talking through his beard’ and introducing a ‘sour note’ because he had the temerity to point out that the Tolpuddle Martyrs were, like Lady Thatcher, brought up as Methodists. At the time of writing, no one has protested that it was an insult to the Tolpuddle Martyrs, but no doubt that will happen.

Where the Bishop pleased Lady Thatcher’s admirers was with his explanation of why she said that “there is no such thing as society.” The phrase has been “misunderstood”, he said and “refers in her mind to some impersonal entity to which we are tempted to surrender our independence”

But this is not right. Thatcher’s theme was not self-reliance, but responsibility – or rather the lack of it, in adults who have children but do not want to cope with parenthood. And it was not a comment that slipped out by mistake: she actually made the assertion twice in one interview.

Speaking to Woman’s Own on 23 September 1987, she said: “Too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’ ‘I am homeless, the Government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing!”

The actual, much-quoted phase came out a few sentences later, when she added: “If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society.” The full text is here.

We can all agree that adults who have children should care for them: they should not expect others to do it for them. But, sadly, there will always be some children brought into the world by parents who are willfully irresponsible or incapable of bringing them up, and if “there is no such thing as society” to take care of them either, what do Thatcherites suppose will happen to those children?

  • Nickscribe

    I think the Bish should jolly well Get On His Bike, because the Winds Of Change are blowing. It may not be The Beginning of the End, But It Is, Perhaps The End Of the Beginning and soon we’ll realise We’ve Never Had It So Good! After all, we should be thinking about Getting Back To Basics and educating ourselves – in fact, Education! Education! Education! And we should all have a Moral Compass to guide us and – erm – um… enjoy a Gregg’s Pasty!

  • everhopefullbutmostlysceptical

    I’m surprised there aren’t more comments about this, however I’ve always
    considered the responsibility for the population begins with their
    parents, which in turn has been usurped by the state, then those
    individuals are educated along Government lines, used to fill the
    coffers of the treasury, used as cannon fodder during wars and made to
    man the grindstone for the purpose of generating more wealth for
    business, banks and the economy in times of peace. Maybe Mrs Thatcher was an indoctrinated ‘Tory’ with a socialist consciousness as some of her actions looked at in hindsight appear somewhat confused.

  • Pacificweather

    Later, she became very confused, as did Wilson, and who can tell when these things start but hiding unemployement figures behind incapacity benefit is a trick of a regular thinking politician. The Norwegians spent their North Sea oil bonanza on infrastructure projects to link the remote areas of the country to ensure social cohesion and Mrs Thatcher used ours to have 4 million people on benefits. That would be seen as an exceptional act of folly by a politician if we had not had Norman Lamont and Gordon Brown to demonstrate folly by politicians is as common as dish water.


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