Monday, October 23, 2006

Celebrating the abolition of the Slave Trade

I was pleased to see that David Cameron and the Bishop of Liverpool will be attending an event next spring organised by the Conservative Christian Fellowship to hold an event to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the vote to abolish the slave trade.

I have some sympathy with those - including Copeland council - who feel that the best way to make the point that slavery is so wrong that we should apologise for the role our ancestors played in it. But I personally think it is important to make the point in a positive way by including a celebration of those like William Wilberforce who fought to bring an end to slavery.

Oh, and I would have left out this point had not Gordon Brown and John Prescott implied to the contrary, but Wilberforce was not a left-winger fighting against Conservatives for the abolition of slavery.

Wilberforce, an independent MP, was a close friend of Tory prime minister William Pitt, and was supported by him. At one stage when Wilberforce was ill, Pitt stood in for him and moved a motion for an investigation into slavery on Wilberforce's behalf. The coalition government of "All the Talents" which finally manged to get the act to ban the slave trade through both houses of parliament included Tory ministers and would never have been able to get the measure through either house without a significant degree of Tory support.

Treating human beings as property to be bought and sold was a terrible practice of which people of all races were guilty for thousands of years. By all means let us make the point that people in this country, including some organisations such as the church which should have known better, profited from this vile institution.

But let us make at least as much fuss in celebration of those who fought for emancipation. We can be proud that our parliament was one of the first, if not the first, to vote to bring an end to slavery. We should be proud of the fact that the Royal Navy of this country hunted down and stopped the slavers. Britain did as much as any country - and far more than most - to bring about the situation where the transatlantic slave trade is history.

Mind you, we cannot afford to be complacent, even today. Consider the status of young women, mostly from Eastern Europe who have been tricked into coming to this country and coerced into working in the sex industry. If slavery is not the right word to describe their situation, I don't know what is. One of the best things we could do to celebrate the end of the transatlantic slave trade would be a crackdown on the sex industry slave trade, one organised in a way which hits the organisers and not the victims.

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