In Margaret Thatcher’s first major television interview after her election as prime minister, with Brian Walden on Weekend World, she offered her own, slightly unorthodox, interpretation of Jesus’ best-known parable. ‘No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions,’ she remarked; ‘he had money as well.’
And, she said, this confirmed her vision of the society she wished to build, a society that eschewed the socialist obsession with egalitarianism. ‘If opportunity and talent is unequally distributed, then allowing people to exercise that talent and opportunity means more inequality, but it also means you drag up the poor people, because there are the resources to do so.’
She was not the only one to draw lessons from the parable. In his memoirs, the veteran left-winger Ian Mikardo celebrated the frequently derided figure of the political activist, as opposed to the much vaunted silent majority. These latter he characterized as: ‘the people who stay silent, who don’t utter a word of protest against the fruits of social injustice and deprivation; or against the system which hoards mountains of food in cold stores in rich countries whilst millions starve in the waste-lands; or against the erosion for company profit of the world’s natural resources, and the pollution of its air and its rivers and its oceans; or against the slide towards nuclear war and nuclear winter and nuclear holocaust’. He concluded: ‘The Good Samaritan was an activist: those who passed by on the other side were members of the silent majority.’
There was yet another interpretation of the Good Samaritan, this time from the one serious student of the New Testament in the House of Commons. Enoch Powell insisted that the story had to be understood in the historical context of those who heard it first, an audience who would have understood the racial relationship of the Jews and the Samaritans: ‘If the parable has a “moral”, it is that Jews and Samaritans should remember that they are not merely neighbours (literally) but kinsmen.’
As ever, Powell’s was something of a maverick position. But the split between Thatcher and Mikardo – each claiming the Good Samaritan as, variously, a man of property or a radical activist – symbolized the division in British politics as it entered the new world of the 1980s. And that split was about to grow wider still and wider.
Thatcher had won power primarily because the liberal wing of the political class seemed to have run out of ideas on how to govern, and because she appeared to offer a new direction that, for better or worse, seemed worth trying. In the words of Rowan Atkinson’s parody of a Tory on Not The Nine O’Clock News: ‘If it doesn’t work, then we’ll be more than prepared to revert to the old, liberal, wishy-washy, socialist, nigger-loving, red, left-wing, homosexual, commie ways of the recent past. But please, let’s have a chance...'
published by Aurum Press
© Alwyn W Turner 2008