A heart, half a cloak and the dues

Sir Peter Bottomley on his visit to a sorting office
Sir Peter Bottomley on his visit to a sorting office

The poem A Christmas Carol became Christina Rossetti’s famous hymn In the bleak midwinter with its moving conclusion: “Yet what I can I give you: Give my heart.”

I remember those words whenever I turn to the purpose of prosperity and the value of sharing it. The gifts of the poor matter as much as giving by those who have more material goods to share.

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing

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The word chaplain may come from the original word for the priest who cared for the half cloak of St Martin of Tours who famously gave the other half to a scantily clad beggar.

There are many lessons in Jesus’s story of the Jericho road. One is of trust: the Samaritan trusted the innkeeper to care for the victim of muggers and the innkeeper trusted the Samaritan to pay the extra dues if necessary.

In the constituency we can see people, homes and work places. Work can be private enterprise, public services and often a mix of each. One recent morning on a visit to the local sorting office, I was shown the modern equipment that sorts our mail. The thought did come that the members of the rail union could helpfully copy the posties’ example of adapting to the beneficial use of modern technology?

It was good to meet the Communications Workers Union shop steward. When I served as an employment minister responsible for the law in industrial relations and for safety at work I would speak of the voluntary contributions of 250,000 union representatives. Contrary to uninformed opinion, nearly all their time was given to avoiding or to resolving difficulties at work.

On a different day, I had had a complicated rail journey followed by a bus trip from Rustington. Everything went well and on time. Let us hope that becomes the norm. New investment in trains and track can be matched by industrial cooperation: it is in the interests of all.

There is a responsibility on government to help wealth creation in addition to considering how there can be greater opportunities to share it more widely and more fairly.

Many totalitarian tendencies try unsuccessfully to wipe out the natural wish within families to do the best they can for descendants. There can also be the wish to eliminate religion.

The better alternative is for rulers to be genuine representatives, caring for the lasting benefit of their whole population combined with benefits that can be shared across the world.

At a presentation given by the Department of International Trade, MPs heard the truth: international companies invest here because we have an open liberal economy, we have world-class talent, a flexible labour market and a business-friendly environment.

It matters to have a competitive tax regime and relatively low employer social security contributions.

I do recognise the global risks of trade protectionism, potential trade wars and the current uncertainty as we exit the EU.

The fundamentals of UK investment here on the south coast, up through the Gatwick and Crawley hub onwards throughout the nation, remain strong. The attractiveness of the business environment is strong.

We are richer than the days of the Samaritan or of Bishop Martin. At this Christmastide, I salute everyone who gives their heart to others and who share what they have with others, with the stranger and with the friend.

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