Advising Mr Cameron: lessons from an ancient kingdom

The Prime Minister will not be short of advice as he appoints the Cabinet and prepares the Queen’s Speech.  There is a particular bible story about accepting and weighing advice that I would suggest it might be helpful for him to read and ponder in the first days of the new government.

It’s a story about transition.  King Solomon has died.  All the tribes of Israel have gathered to make his son, Rehoboam, the new king.  But there is widespread discontent.  A delegation comes from the northern tribes, requesting an easing of their burdens.

Rehoboam has a choice to make and he asks for three days to reflect.  He consults two sets of advisors.  The first group, his father’s counsellors, advise him to listen to the people, to be their servant, to reach out to the disaffected and lead from this foundation.

The second group, his own contemporaries, give opposite advice.  Discontent should be met with harshness.  The burdens on the north should be increased still further.  The new government should start as it means to go on.

Reheboam makes his choice.  It is a fateful one.  He listens to the younger, harsher, more strident voices.  A few years later, the kingdom is divided, at war, impoverished and in chaos.

I have no doubt that David Cameron will receive both sorts of advice in the coming days.  There will be those who counsel him to reach out to the whole nation, to connect with the disaffected, to listen to the people and to be their servant.  But there will be those who see the Conservative majority as a mandate to fulfill and go beyond the manifesto commitments, blind to the risk of increasing the burdens of those who already bear the heavy load (of sickness, disability or the struggle to find sustainable employment).

The Prime Minister’s speech on the steps of Downing Street on Thursday moved clearly in the first direction.  David Cameron spoke of one nation and sought to connect more deeply with those who had voted for other parties, with the people of Scotland, with the regions.  He promised to bring our country together, to help working people and give “the poorest people the chance of training, a job and hope for the future”.

Much of this rhetoric is encouraging but now it needs to be supported and backed up with action.  That action needs to be taken swiftly to begin to draw the United Kingdom back together again and begin to build for the future.  The choices made in the next few days about priorities and plans for legislation in the next year are critical.

So here are some suggestions for a big, open offer from Mr Cameron to every part of the United Kingdom, and especially to those who voted for other parties.

  • Make an early, concrete and clear commitment to safeguarding the environment and to leadership in the key climate conferences this year through the appointments you make and in the Queen’s Speech.  Action on climate change is integral to economic growth.
  • Abolish the bedroom tax.  It hasn’t worked.  It has generated more resentment than revenue.  Repealing it would demonstrate a capacity for change and to think again.
  • Promise an early review of benefits sanctions as part of the ongoing reform of welfare.  Sanctions cause massive hardship.  They are responsible for a significant number of people needing foodbanks.  They are tangential to the main welfare reforms.  In the meantime suspend sanctions for families with children and people suffering from mental ill health.
  • Encourage the Living Wage as part of growing a sustainable, strong national economy.
  • Take a long view of constitutional reform.  Acknowledge the concern revealed by the election outcome.  Entrust it to some kind of independent commission which has time and space to think.  Don’t rush the key decisions which will affect the whole future of the United Kingdom.
  • Revisit the Big Society ideas, if not the language.  Place active partnership, between national and local government and the faith and voluntary sector, front and centre again, not as a replacement of government initiative but complementary to it.  Make sure there is clear leadership for these ideas at Cabinet level.
  • Accelerate the provision of truly affordable housing and prioritise this as part of investment in the future.  Protect and strengthen social housing provision to ensure that everyone has access to a decent home at a price they can afford.
  • Reach out to the English regions as well as to Scotland in swift and tangible ways.  In particular make investment in the northern powerhouse a key priority for the first two years of the new government.

The word Minister means servant.  A Prime Minister is called to be one who serves the whole nation.  If Reheboam had listened to different advice the whole story of Israel would have been different.  I hope that David Cameron will take a moment to read and ponder his story: to listen to all the people, to lighten burdens, and to build one nation, for the benefit of all.

+Steven Sheffield

(The story of Reheboam’s choice is told in 1 Kings 12)

48 replies
  1. Jill Houlden
    Jill Houlden says:

    I pray that our Prime Minister Will heed this advice, which offers a way to give us a fairer and more equal and united society. Thus our country will be GREAT Britain in the true sense of the word.

  2. Guido Opperman
    Guido Opperman says:

    So much of what’s transpiring in Worcester, South Africa seems to be facing David Cameron in the UK…we will be following your progress closely Mr Cameron

  3. Jonny Price
    Jonny Price says:

    The Bishop’s role is to proclaim the good news of Jesus. If he wants to promote politics, he should join politics. It is the role of church leadership to encourage their congregations to engage with politics, but not preach a party line. This article is very one sided in its political analysis and therefore grossly inappropriate from a Bishop. There are viewpoints on the opposite side of the political viewpoint that are no less Christian. The Bishop should spend less time writing party political articles and more time preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.

  4. Susan groves
    Susan groves says:

    This just goes to show how the bible relates to the modern world. Maybe the Prime Minister should consult with Gods Minister?

  5. Ben Allsop
    Ben Allsop says:

    An honest, fair and balanced analysis. Bishop Stephen has drawn a striking parallel between the current political scene and that of pre-divided Israel. Truly ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ (Ecc. 1:9).

  6. Linda Evans
    Linda Evans says:

    I agree with all this. But if the majority of the country had agreed with these ideas, we wouldn’t now have a Tory government. And even if he wanted to, I don’t see Cameron going against all his advisors who want to cut welfare even more. I think the Church should be thinking of how to support the losers from Tory policy.

  7. .
    . says:

    I enjoyed reading what you had to say. But do you not think that the input from religion into politics can be dangerous?

  8. Margaret Rivers
    Margaret Rivers says:

    I could not agree more Jonny Price. No doubting the way the bishop voted! For too many decades now, the Anglican church has become a branch of the left wing political parties. Please get on with preaching the gospel, and stop telling fellow christians how they should think. We are all perfectly able to think for ourselves and draw our own conclusions. In light of our faith and beliefs. It is not your place to direct our political thinking.

  9. Sheila Eyre
    Sheila Eyre says:


  10. Geoffrey Daniel
    Geoffrey Daniel says:

    I DON’T doubt the Bishop’s blog will generate a few Amens but it is right to observe that his is a distinctly political view … and not to share his views does NOT equate with being non-Christian. The Bishop is right that the PM will not be short of advice in the coming days. So why add to the background noise by offering it? It would be better in my view if clergy were to take a lead in acknowledging the plain fact that the nation state cannot possibly cure all of society’s ills by throwing money around, whereas bodies like the CofE have an important role to play … through food banks where they are genuinely needed, schemes like the Archer Project and ‘Sheffield Money’ which will try to halt the baleful influence of High Street usury. Prior to 2010 we had rulers who abandoned fiscal rectitude which harmed the whole country. Now we have an administration which for all its imperfections is steadily fixing the economy … a pre-requisite of bankrolling any level of social provision. Cameron and One-Nation Conservatism deserves a chance to prove itself, because the silent majority has decreed so. The signs – as Bishop Steven admits – are encouraging. I don’t doubt there will be much gnashing of teeth in the coming months but past financial profligacy must be corrected and not be repeated. There will always be implacable opposition to anything Tory-led of course, preferably without obscenities daubed on War Memorials, preferably without constant Left-wing shrieking … and ideally without well-meant but misguided missiles fired by clerics who should restrict their focus to possibilities within their own domain. Bishop Steven offers the PM a lesson from Old Testament days. I’m sure David Cameron will appreciate it! But we live in a vastly different and more complex world than in those days when to be sick or downtrodden was to REALLY draw the short straw. The cancered and leprous were in the gutter, and not benefiting from vastly expensive treatment, free at the point of delivery. Society has progressed, thank God AND Mammon. It is hardly un-Christlike to want to balance society’s books. And it is not against Christ’s mindset to create wealth either – his preaching was that we should not abuse or idolise wealth. He told the young, rich would-be disciple to ‘sell all you have and follow me’. Note the word ‘sell’, not ‘destroy’. Who else would that young man have sold to but someone else with money! We need prosperity in order to eliminate the need for austerity and provide social security, especially if we want that from cradle to care-home. Labour well-nigh destroyed Britain’s prosperity and gave us policies that placed intolerable pressure on institutions such as the NHS … then accused others of wanting to ‘destroy’ the NHS! We live in a clearly imperfect world amid a cacophony of political self-interest but above everything else that emerged from last week’s election, I for one (the nation’s poorest Conservative) am grateful that the result was plain to see. To adapt a verse from Ecclesiastes … ‘clarity, clarity, all is clarity’. Ish!

  11. Anne Eastwood
    Anne Eastwood says:

    As Archbishop Tutu said – my paraphrase – Anyone who thinks politics and the Bible don’t mix has never read the Bible”.

  12. James Stewart
    James Stewart says:

    Jonny Price utterly misunderstands the role of Bishop (as either overseer or shepherd) if he thinks the one wearing a mitre should stay out of politics. To stick to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to proclaim good news for the poor. Sounds pretty economically and politically engaged to me.

  13. Evette Hudson
    Evette Hudson says:

    while I agree wholeheartedly with The Bishops points . I would also like to have heard him adding the growing grave concern around racism and how this has infiltrated political rhetoric in her guise of a discussion on immigration . As a faith our ‘congregation ‘ spreads across all nations . This cannot be allowed to continue unchecked or without comment and condemnation. Race hate crimes in the UK have rocketed over the last 2 years . The overall incitement to use parts of our communities as scapegoats for a countries ills is truly concerning. Tolerance and understanding is one of the cornerstones of our faith , let this lead the way to create change.

  14. Alister Palmer
    Alister Palmer says:

    it is so encouraging to have a bishop espousing gospel values and holding our government to account. We need more not less of this.

  15. George
    George says:

    Wholeheartedly agree. It is the duty of the Church to stand up for the poor and downtrodden in society, following the example of Jesus Christ.

  16. James Sharp
    James Sharp says:

    I agree too. Fantastic stuff. Jonny Price might like to consider that this IS the good news of Jesus Christ; a dualistic separation of ‘good news’ and ‘politics’ is part of the reason the church is often perceived as part of the problem rather than the solution.

  17. John Taylor
    John Taylor says:

    Agree wholeheartedly with your eight suggestions. Sadly, I doubt he’ll listen. He has his mandate and will do as he sees fit.

  18. Malcolm and Olwen McNeil
    Malcolm and Olwen McNeil says:

    As Christians, we are called to stand beside and support the poorest and most disadvantaged. This is how to judge a civilised society. The Bishop is right to remind us all of our responsibilities. The bible is full of examples calling for Christians to support the poor and also has stark warnings for those who ignore the needs of the poor – particularly those who claim to be Christians.

  19. Jas
    Jas says:

    I don’t know whether listening is David’s strongpoint or not but I hope it is. I also hope that he does have at least some decent chums. Hopefully he will take advice from them, rather than bowing to some of the obviously less than decent ones. My final hope is that David will also take any necessary action to fulfill some of the ‘aspirational’ election promises he made in the run up to the election. You never know, he might be a good guy after all.

  20. Simon Copley
    Simon Copley says:

    I thank God for David Cameron. Why? Because he is a man. And as such, he isopen to argument, reason, persuasion, compassion, grace and transformation. I pray he may be…

  21. Martin
    Martin says:

    Jonny Price, you are completely wrong. Christianity allows if not demands political action. The Bishop’s comments are not grossly party political or partisan so as to be inappropriate for his role. They only appear left wing because they jar so strongly against the current apparent views of a cruel far right ideology. They are actually supportive of David Cameron ‘s own words and simply hold him to those. whilst it is possible to be a Christian conservative it is not actually possible to be a Christian supporter of current Conservative government action, which are actually against Christian teaching and morality. It is hard to believe that those who are saying that the bishop should not state his views are entirely motivated by a desire to keep the bishop to what they see as his remit and not also wishing to silence opposition to their own views. would they be equally critical of a bishop being equally political but with views they agree with? The bishop is right in what he says and he has the right to say it and he is right to say it.

  22. Martin
    Martin says:

    Margaret Rivers you are wrong. it is the Bishop’s place to advise the Prime Minister and to allow us to see that advice. It is his place to give a partisan view that suggests a direction for our political thinking. You don’t have to agree with him but it is his right to say what he says, he is right to say it and in my view what he says is right.

  23. Martin
    Martin says:

    Geoffrey Daniel you appear to say that the Bishop should not give a view because so much advice is already available and his is just background noise but then you suggest that his advice should be different. Which do you believe he should do: offer no advice, or offer different advice from that which he offers?

  24. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Excellent, clear thinking. I want the Church (Bishops and any other leaders) to give more not less of this kind of comment. Thank you.

  25. Barry Byles
    Barry Byles says:

    Some good points from the Bishop but disappointed that he fails to acknowledge some of the good things over the past 5 years from the Government- improving economy being the most notable. Compared with some other EU countries we have good cause for optimism for the future. Let’s not see the ‘glass half empty’ but give encouragement where it is due, in spite of the fact there is still a huge amount to be done. Also as Christians we should work to return this nation to its Christian principles by ensuring we do our job as the church in proclaiming the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and bringing spiritual revival and renewal to the country .

  26. Bishop Steven
    Bishop Steven says:

    Many thanks for the comments and feedback here and on twitter. The positive comments are appreciated. To those who think I should be preaching the gospel – please have a look at some of the other blog posts here and the rest of the website. This isn’t intended as a party political piece but a serious reflection on the challenge of offering leadership in the present challenging circumstances.

  27. Clare
    Clare says:

    Interesting that there is frustration from conservative voters that the bishop is presenting his ‘distinctly political view’. He has not aligned himself with any one party, but he clearly appears left wing. However, can any conservative commenters claim that his ideas are wrong? Should we really ignore the poor more? I am not a staunch supporter of any one party, I like policies that have come from many different parties, but if the bishops suggestions seem anti-conservative, and yet are rooted in scripture, to me that suggests that the conservative have not yet shown themselves to be working for the poor, or even the common man. Let’s not forget that there is not a majority voting for them, there is in fact a majority vote against them.

  28. LILY
    LILY says:

    Perhaps Steven Croft would be better advised caring for his flock and sorting out the mess that the COE has got itself into by turning it’s back on biblical teaching and accepting liberal popular standards. This is a left wing political comment using an unsuitable bible story incorrectly to push his views. Another bad loser.

  29. Geoffrey Daniel
    Geoffrey Daniel says:

    MARTIN: The Bishop has a very valid view, even if I disagree with some, though not all, of it. Couching it as ‘advice to the PM’ though does little more than nail Bishop Steven’s colours to his own political mast. This won’t diminish my huge personal respect for him but such action does run the risk of alienating those of his flock of a different political hue. Those contrasting views are in NO WAY less valid than his and certainly NO LESS Christian. This country spends scores of billions of pounds on a bloated welfare system and it is hardly wrong for an administration to consider ways of carefully reducing the spend. Twice in my lifetime the UK has been driven to near bankruptcy by a Labour government which was happy to fund feather-bedding through profligate borrowing, with catastrophic results for all of us. I don’t proclaim that Cameron’s Conservatives will be a panacea for all ills – no authority ever can be – but they deserve to be given a chance without the constant shrieking and whinging of the Left who lost the recent election through being stuck in the outdated groove of ‘soak the rich’. Please let no-one equate Conservatism with being somehow non-Christian. There is just as much desire in the Conservative fold for having a comprehensive and fair welfare system (yes, including the NHS) but it’s an ideal that needs proper funding … and that can only emanate from a sound economy. LILY: Bishop Steven does care immensely for his flock and I for one take comfort from the fact there is (I hope!) scope within the local Anglican community for the faithful of any political persuasion to work together for good.

  30. Robin Fishwick
    Robin Fishwick says:

    Popular standards right now are very illiberal. It says it all when a bishop cannot ask someone to practice loving-kindness without being accused of being too political. Christianity should not be confined to a box, a bishop cannot “confine himself” to preaching the Gospel. The Gospel itself bursts out of any confines and finds relevance in the everyday. If it failed to do so it would be neither “news” nor “good”.

  31. Revd Sue Martin
    Revd Sue Martin says:

    what excellent advice!! Surely any Christian would want this for all? It is about time that politicians do listen before a rebellion does happen, as for Rehobam.

  32. Robin Fishwick
    Robin Fishwick says:

    I suspect that popular standards are by no means liberal. The word “tough” has been used too often for my liking and continues to poison our political climate. It is quite alarming when a bishop imploring a prime minister to to practice loving-kindness is criticised for going beyond his remit. There are no limits to the remit of the Kingdom of Heaven. I resent the suggestion that Bishop Croft is pandering to a liberal agenda. Anyone reading the Gospels can come to similar conclusions – not everyone does, but anyone might. My dear brothers and sisters, even if you disagree with Bishop Croft’s views, do not make assumptions on where they come from. That, surely, cannot be condoned by any reading of the Gospel.

  33. Lily
    Lily says:

    Why does Steven Croft think that he is specially qualified to “Offer leadership in the present challenging circumstances”? Does he think his views/ideas are so superior to those of an elected government- Isn’t that more than a little puffed up? Sir concentrate on the job you are paid to do – care for the spiritual needs of your flock and preach the Gospel biblically please.

  34. Ann
    Ann says:

    Do those who are complaining against the Bishop’s comment think God’s creation should not be safeguarded? Do they think the church should be silent about children going hungry or those who cannot cope being punished? Do they think people should be exploited and not have a living wage? Do they not see the advantages of state and faith working together? What is the real fear here? My own answers are: I believe God entrusted us with the stewardship of creation, that he commands us to care for the poor and needy, that justice is high on Christ’s agenda and that in rendering to Caesar we should not forget God. I hear more party politics in the critical responses than in the Bishop’s writing.

  35. Chris bristow
    Chris bristow says:

    i think the bish has been very constrained. Inequality is an evil worse than poverty. (Forget who said it) basic question. Has this country become more or less equal in the last five years? Do we want to be rid of the evil of inequality? (Just to remind you of the immense wealth continuing to be acumulated by the richest 1% and the widening gap btn the rich and poor?) simple as!


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