REV SEAN BLACKMAN: Is Lord Shaftesbury a Tory leader Theresa May could emulate?

Comedian Lee Nelson disrupts Theresa May's speech with a  'P45'                                                                          (PA)
Comedian Lee Nelson disrupts Theresa May's speech with a 'P45' (PA)
Have your say

The past few weeks have not been good for the prime minister.

And it seemed to get worse after the disastrous Conservative Conference, as former Conservative chairman Grant Shapps – and a group of nameless Conservative MPs – tried to get Theresa May to resign.

Although, this does seem to have already run out of steam as Conservative MP after Conservative MP – both from the cabinet and the backbenches – expressed their commitment to her leadership.

Nevertheless, it does make you wonder whether it is too premature to say the storm is over, that the dark clouds on the horizon have gone and that the sun has begun to shine.

Apart from the challenge of getting a good deal from the EU, there is a reinvigorated Labour Party hungry for power.

They are all too willing to step in, should the Tories tear themselves apart, to establish a new form of socialism which has attracted many new Labour Party members and caught the imagination of a growing number of young people.

All this seems a long way from the heady days of Theresa May’s first statement delivered as prime minister in Downing Street on the July 13, 2016.

She spoke about fighting against burning injustices related to poverty, race, mental illness, job security, home ownership and the just-about-managing.

It was not the kind of speech we might have expected from a prime minister. It is difficult to imagine Margaret Thatcher making such a speech.

So, if Theresa May was looking for inspiration from Conservative Party history where might she look for it?

If she truly is looking to be a reforming prime minister who builds a better Britain, which Tory is worth following?

Someone who had an incredible impact upon this country in their lifetime was Lord Shaftesbury, who died in 1885.

Despite having all the privileges of power and position, he devoted himself to improving the lives of others.

While others looked away, Shaftesbury gave himself to improving the welfare of those with mental illnesses who were kept in ‘madhouses’.

Shaftesbury fought for the rights of children who were made to work as slaves in factories and mines for more than 10 hours a day. He spoke up for the boys employed as chimney sweeps who often had been sold by their parents and suffered from scorched and lacerated skin, with their eyes and throats filled with soot.

And he fought for those children who were denied an education because they were too dirty to go to school.

Shaftesbury took on the vested interest and fought for those who had no-one to speak up for them.

He remains one of the most respected social reformers in contemporary history and one of the few statesmen for whose death the poor cried in the street.

In The Times of October 2, 1885, he was celebrated as ‘the friend of the poor, the degraded and the outcast’.

The jury, which decides whether Mrs May will lead the Conservative Party into the next election, is still out.

However, if she is looking for a past Conservative on whom she could model herself, she need look no further than Lord Shaftesbury.

Perhaps if she follows in his footsteps she might truly become a leader worth following.