Despite their sometimes strange interpretations, we should welcome the use of the story—on both sides of the aisleby Nick Spencer / November 7, 2017 / Leave a comment
There’s not much that unites Jeremy Corbyn and Margaret Thatcher. Beyond the fact that neither was expected to lead their party, it is hard to see what the hard left, national-anthem-dodging, vegetarian, teetotaller has in common with the hard right, free-market-fundamentalist, patriotic carnivore.
But there is one more thing. In spite of their religious differences—Corbyn, who says his faith is a “private matter,” has little in common with the loudly Methodist Thatcher—they are both partial to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Indeed, both have referenced it in high-profile political speeches.
“I want us as a movement to be proud [and] strong,” Corbyn told his newly-energised supporters in his leader’s victory speech in 2015. “I want us to stand up and say ‘we want to live in a society where we don’t pass by on the other side of those people rejected by an unfair welfare system’.”
“We have four weeks to show what kind of country we are”, he urged his audience 18 months later as he faced a snap general election. “We know that the people of Britain don’t pass by on the other side.”
The allusion is light but it is there; audible for those with ears to hear. Like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, both of whom were fond of the parable, Corbyn preferred the periphrastic reference. Picking up one the key, repeated phrases of the story—“he passed by on the other side”—used to describe the heartless Priest and Levite, Corbyn’s Samaritan lurks in the shadows, hovering at the edge of our vision.
The Thatcherite Samaritan was rather more up front. And he delivered a different message. “The point is that even the Good Samaritan had to have the money to help, otherwise he too would have had to pass on the other side,” she told the audience in one of her early major speeches in 1968.
“No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well,” she informed a bemused Brian Walden on London Weekend Television’s Weekend World fifteen years later.
This wasn’t Thatcher’s only use of the story. She deployed it several times, such as in a lecture in 1978, when she used…