ONE of the admirable things about Holy Trinity, Brompton, in one
of the wealthiest parts of London, is that it does not despise poor
people. This may seem a small accomplishment, until you consider
the commoner attitudes among people who run the country, or even
those who merely went to school among the elite.
Here, for instance, is a leader from The Times: "The
people there have always been listless, improvident, and wretched,
under whatever rulers. . . Their present misfortune is that they
are simply what they have always been. . .
"When we see a dense population on one of the finest shores of
the world, with an inexhaustible ocean before their eyes, yearly
allowing immense shoals of fish to pass visibly before their eyes,
with scarcely an effort to exact a toll from the passing masses of
food, we must either rebuke their perverseness or pity their savage
condition. We do pity them, because they have yet to be
I'm cheating, slightly, because that was written in 1848, and
about the Irish, at the height of the potato famine.
But compare and contrast Monday's Times leader on those
who starve in England today: "Volunteers at food banks are already
bringing their skills to the food-poverty challenge. In the
best-run food banks, they ensure that people have to prove real
need and face searching questions about their circumstances.
"The answers to these questions are used to help people to
tackle the underlying reasons for their need, whether that is bad
financial management, an addiction or, for example, a mishandling
of their benefit claim."
Of course, a starving claimant has about as much chance of
getting the money to which he or she is entitled as an Irish
crofter had of swimming out and catching a haddock with his bare
hands to feed his family. So you can see what the Archbishop is up
STARTING in The Mail on Sunday was, then, a shrewd way
to get his point across. It guaranteed the enmity of the Daily
Mail (which hates its Sunday sibling, as is traditional in
these relationships) - but the Daily Mail would have had a
go at him anyway. And it did reach a large audience that would
normally be pretty unsympathetic to the claims of foodbank
They would not normally expect to hear that "hunger stalks large
parts of our country.
"For many this will have resulted from a sudden crisis or an
event which has thrown life's certainties into the air. Things pile
up. One person the inquiry heard from had stopped to help someone
who collapsed on the street. He missed his appointment and lost his
benefits for a while.
"The scenario here can often be mercilessly straightforward:
when an additional expense arrives out of the blue or expected
income is missed, bare cupboards and empty stomachs swiftly follow.
Even being in work and earning money no longer appears to offer
complete protection against these situations."
What caught the imagination was his introduction: that hunger in
this country shocked him more than destitution in Zaïre. This was
an example of the way that "Archbishop says something obviously
true" will always make a news story.
I am told that John Humphrys had prepared a whole line of
incredulous questioning about how anyone could compare British
poverty with that of an African country ravaged by decades of war.
Never mind that the Archbishop did not say it was worse, just more
shocking. Refusing interviews was an excellent tactic here.
AS FOR the substantive proposals, results were mixed. The most
ingenious came from Rachel Sylvester, in The Times, who
tried to cast the report as an argument between Iain Duncan Smith,
imaginatively cast as a defender of the poor, and the heartless
The Guardian was and is uneasy about the whole idea of
foodbanks. The fear is that they will be used to shrug off the
state's responsibility for feeding people. So the leader ended:
"Food bank volunteers are motivated by good, often Christian,
ethics, which people of all political persuasions should salute.
But much of the new hunger is the responsibility of Messrs Cameron
and Osborne. And there is no apolitical way to say that."
For the Daily Mail, opinion came, as usual, wrapped as
news: "The Archbishop of Canterbury was warned not to become a
'political pawn' last night after calling for state-backed food
"But yesterday senior Tories criticised the clergyman for
supporting the 'nationalisation' of food banks. In addition, the
MPs' study found that families' lack of money was not the only
"The all-party Commons group on hunger warned that some parents
spend far too much money on cigarettes, alcohol, takeaways and
other 'non-essential items of expenditure' because they lack basic
Also, they don't go fishing in the sea at all, despite the known
fact that it is full of fish.