It’s lovely when one of your heroes demolishes arguments from a contemporary politician from beyond the grave.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s words are below.

Interestingly, The Trussell Trust who run many of the country’s foodbanks countered Rees-Mogg’s claim that foodbank use had risen due to Jobcentre referrals in this statement below:

i.e. 95% of claims were not as a result of referrals from the Job Centre.

Senior Labour MP Angela Rayner wasn’t impressed.

Then there’s the ‘Christian Charity’ argument.

And to have charitable support given by people voluntarily to support their fellow citizens, I think is rather uplifting and shows what a good, compassionate country we are.”

As quoted in The Guardian above.

Now, I’m not going to go down the road of saying that religious people would have to invent the poor to enable them to do good things. That would be stupid and also historically inaccurate. Certainly at a local-to-me-in-Cambridge level anyway.

Recently, Jacob Rees Mogg was in hot water with the liberal media over his comments on abortion, taking the line of the Catholic Church on that specific issue. Two lines of challenge have been both opposition in principle to his views on women’s rights, and also his selective quotations of his political red lines based on the bits of a religion he agrees with. Paragraph 1947 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church effectively repudiates Rees-Mogg’s neo-liberal economic policies given the impact such policies have had on growing wealth inequalities over the past few decades. Talking of inequalities, he is one of the most highly paid MPs in terms of ‘extra curricular activities’ – check out those entries in his register of interests.

“What’s Eglantyne Jebb got to do with this?”

Eglantyne Jebb founded an organisation called Save the Children. You may have heard of them.


Cambridge hero Eglantyne Jebb as an undergraduate at Oxford in the late 1890s

When Eglantyne came to Cambridge with her widowed mother, Tye, to live close to Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, the Cambridge Classicist, Eglantyne was nominally Conservative in her politics. By the time she left Cambridge for good just after the outbreak of the First World War, she had transitioned through to liberalism all the way to being a supporter of the co-operative movement at a time the Co-operative movement (and the Co-op Party) were reaching their peak. People familiar with Eglantyne Jebb’s charity work are generally less familiar with her political work that preceded it. This article that she wrote in December 1914 asking what the war will result in, demonstrates her conversion to the belief that our economic future would be a co-operative one.

Prior to that, the only significant parliamentary opposition to the Conservatives were the liberals – in fact they were in power from 1906 through to 1916. Her switch to the liberals – and to the Cambridge Liberal Party in particular, was driven by her social circle which included the Keynes family – in particular Florence and two of her three children, John Maynard the economist, and Margaret who prior to the latter’s marriage to Archibald Hill was also Eglantyne’s partner. The view we get of Eglantyne’s opinions stem in part from this article written in the run up to the December 1910 snap general election. The liberal-supporting Cambridge Independent wrote about how Eglantyne single-handedly ran Stanley Buckmaster KC’s campaign to get re-elected. He lost his seat to the Conservative Almeric Paget – who would later go onto become a fascist sympathiser. (According to that link in the referenced footnotes, he wrote the forward to this propaganda piece published just before the outbreak of WWII).

Helping the poor to become independent, not dependent on charitable handouts

Eglantyne, like a number of Christians in Cambridge, were struggling with entrenched poverty and deprivation in town. Ellice Hopkins in the 1870s was already raising issues in the local halls of power – and published a book shortly before leaving Cambridge on her findings. The nature of Cambridge in those days was that many areas where poor people lived were side-by-side streets where dwellers in expensive town houses lived. This is still visible today. Cross the road from St Barnabas Road into Gwydir Street and you move from town houses to terraced working class houses even though all you’ve done is cross Mill Road.

Being intellectually talented and very hard working, the women of Cambridge that Eglantyne socialised and worked with weren’t just providing relief for the poor in Cambridge through the Cambridge Charitable Organisations Society, they were also asking the people in power why the poor had no food in the first place. One of the first things that Eglantyne did was to establish a baseline. No one had done this before – we didn’t know what provision for the relief of the poor was already out there. So Eglantyne carried out a survey and published the results.


If you look closely above 82 Regent Street in Cambridge, you’ll see a blue plaque with Eglantyne’s name on it. I’ve written more about the publication here.

What she then did was revolutionary: She undertook the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge. You can read it on line in full here. Remember that there was still a school of [Christian] thought that blamed ‘ladies with loose morals’ as being a major cause of general bad stuff happening in town. That’s not to say she was the only person examining these issues. A number of her policy recommendations were already in place, for example slum clearances under the first of a series of Housing Acts. What her study did do was put policy rocket boosters onto attempts to deal with poverty and multiple deprivation. One result was Sedley Taylor setting up the country’s first municipal dental clinic in Cambridge and giving free treatment to all children at council-run schools. We named a primary school and a road with expensive houses on after him. The primary school got knocked down but the road with expensive houses on (Sedley Taylor Road) is still there.

It was on the back of all of this work that she got involved in local politics – elected to the board of education of Cambridge Borough Council. (The district/town/city councils had responsibility for schools in those days, and women could be elected by councillors onto such boards). It was this quotation that explains why Eglantyne switched to the liberals.

“I was a long time realising that social reform on the part of the Conservatives is like charity in the hands of Lady Bountiful – everything is to be made nice and pleasant, but the upper class [is] to be respected and obeyed’. The corruption at elections first opened my eyes and I came to believe that no social reform could be of use which did not promote the independence of the people”

Eglantyne Jebb in the Cambridge Independent Press, 08 July 1910. (Scroll to screenshots at end)

Rees-Mogg’s point about foodbanks is precisely the issue Eglantyne takes issue with. It may be good to see some people doing their ‘Christian duty’ to help the poor, but in Cambridge the Christians here that I’ve met over the years also have a habit of asking those in power why the poor have no food. Sir Brian Heap hosted a meeting on food security nearly 110 years after Eglantyne’s book was published, interestingly in the same church that Florence Ada Keynes attended in Cambridge. I went along to hear more than a few members of the church really going after a couple of speakers from the big food industry about their practices.

As the Trussell Trust has said on many occasions, food banks can only help alleviate the poverty that people face. They are not a long term solution to poverty – especially a poverty made worse by flawed government policies. This too was Eglantyne Jebb’s point in her campaigning. At the Cambridge Charitable Organisation Society they did a mixture of things – including finding jobs for the unemployed to providing limited financial handouts to those destitute. At the same time they were also lobbying politicians. This shows why history is ever so important: it means we don’t have to learn the same lessons again the hard way.

As a postscript…

Because of her work and legacy, the Church of England dedicated 17 December to her memory.

Original source – A dragon’s best friend

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