If you want to know about greed, pride and lust, ask a politician

11 May

Having served as a politician for more than half a century, you’d expect Kenneth Baker to know a little about sin.

His reflections on The Seven Deadly Sins combines a number of his passions: his faith, art, satire – particularly the work of 17th century social critic and artist Hogarth – and politics.

Kenneth Baker at Swindon Spring Festival. Image © Fernando Bagué.

The seven deadly sins – pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth – are, of course, not Biblical in origin. At Swindon Spring Festival on Friday, Baker explained how Pope Gregory had devised the list of sins to keep largely illiterate sixth century Christians on the straight and narrow.

Easily memorable, transgression meant exclusion from heaven, and eternal torture in hell. For avoidance of doubt, images of the dead enduring torment by demons were commissioned by the Catholic Church throughout the medieval period.

Baker was keen to ascribe sins to events and political figures, both historical and modern.

He showed a cartoon by Peter Brookes, published in The Times in July 2016, called The Red Carpet Treatment. It showed Teresa May entering 10 Downing Street on a carpet of blood.

At her feet were the bodies of her leadership contest opponents – each of whom had a knife in their back – while propping open the door was her predecessor, David Cameron, who had been stabbed in the chest.

May’s opponents, Baker suggested, had each succumbed to a deadly sin: Cameron had suffered from pride (in the form of hubris), Boris Johnson was guilty of sloth, Michael Gove succumbed to anger, Andrea Leadsom to envy, and the thankfully-consigned-to-the-dustbin-of-history (my words, not his) Stephen Crabb – a committed Christian who was exposed after sexting a 19-year-old constituent – of lust.

He whizzed through history, pinpointing moments and attributing them to one of the seven deadly sins: Nazism to envy of middle class Jews, the financial crash of 2008 to greed, the obesity crisis to gluttony (I disagree with him on this point – I suggest the link between obesity and poverty has as much to do with the relative affordability of bad food (sloth on the part of the state, and the greed of the fast food industry), and the Ashley Madison scandal to lust (a bit of an obscure one when he could just as easily have used colleagues Cecil Parkinson, Jeffrey Archer, David Mellor, or Tim Yeo as examples).

But no. He was careful never to suggest that his cabinet colleagues from the 80s or early 90s – the Thatcher years – had been guilty of succumbing to any of the cardinal sins.

Arguably the Brexit hell we’re all living through now is a result of the greed, envy, and pride paired with the lack of accordance to the corresponding seven virtues including charity, kindness, and humility, as left-behind communities sought to overturn the status quo.

Baker was entertaining, knowledgeable, affable, and sprightly for his 84 years. But given his predilection for turning a blind eye to the behaviour of the government in which he served, and the Conservative administration of his years in the Lords, it’s probably a good job connivance is not the eighth deadly sin.

Words by Peter Davison. Image © Fernando Bagué

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