A famous statue of Dr Alfred Salter, the inspirational Christian campaigner and Labour MP in Bermondsey, was stolen from its position by the Thames recently. The life sized bronze figure has presumably been sold for its scrap value.
When Alfred Salter was selected as the Labour candidate for the Bermondsey West seat in 1918,the Times newspaper commented at the time: “Dr Salter, the Labour candidate, is one of the highly educated idealists who are to be found in the ranks of that party. After a brilliant academic career, he decided to devote himself to work among the poor in Bermondsey, and there he has laboured for many years both as a doctor professionally and as a member of local administrative bodies. Personally, nobody has a word to say against him, but his views are of a very extreme kind.”
Salter was born in Greenwich in 1873, and went on to study medicine at Guy’s Hospital. In 1900 he married fellow socialist and Christian, Ada Brown. In that same year he established his medical practice in Bermondsey and the couple worked and campaigned together to combat the effects of grinding poverty and the overcrowded slums. Salter was renowned for providing medical services free of charge to those who couldn’t pay; eventually establishing a pioneering public health service in the area that pre dates the NHS by twenty years.
Fenner Brockway said of the Salters in his book:Bermondsey Story: The Life of Alfred Salter:
…they began the partnership which was to bring something little short of a revolution to Bermondsey and its people.
People in Bermondsey today feel very strongly about the theft of this statue. I suppose it demonstrates, over sixty years after Salter’s death, the loyalty and the solidarity people feel towards a man who was seen as one of their own.
So, should we be bothered about the theft? After all, there are a number of other lasting memorials to his name in the Bermondsey area. There’s a block of flats, a primary school, a medical centre, a street, even the Alfred Salter Bridge. They all ensure his name lives on.
I believe there’s something far more important than the theft of a statue (sad as that is). It’s the ongoing theft of the values Salter and others have campaigned so vigorously for, often at great personal cost. Things like free medical care, old age pensions, assistance for the unemployed and good quality social housing to name just a few.
Like that statue; which was lovingly crafted at great expense; then torn from its rightful place and sold off cheap. We see the welfare system of this nation being stolen from us and ‘cashed in for its scrap value’.
This has prompted church leaders to write to the Government protesting the proposed unrealistic benefit caps. Benefit caps which will facilitate ‘social cleansing’ as people are forced out of their communities, and which will increase homelessness and child poverty. For decades, we have consistently seen Social Housing sold off and not replaced and whole estates pulled down and the land sold to private developers. We’re now seeing NHS hospitals handed over to companies to run for profit. Schooling is slowly being taken out of the hands of the local authorities. Apparently, under the new Education Act only academies and free schools can now be set up. There will be no new community schools!
As we’ve seen, Alfred Salter was a man universally loved by the people. A man of principle, motivated by his Christian beliefs, which in turn fed his socialist values. He was loved and respected by the people of Bermondsey because he poured out his life for them. “Personally, nobody had a word to say against him..”
We desperately need a new generation of ‘Alfred Salters’. Committed Christians who are willing to stand up for people today who continue to suffer as a result of the ideology of the wealthy elite at the head of our government. An ideology which demonstrates to me that they have no understanding of the effects of poverty and hopelessness their actions have inflicted on the voiceless poor of this nation. We should cry out for justice.
The influential Christian politician, Keir Hardie stated:
Poverty can never be remedied by charity, but only by justice.
We need a new generation of campaigning Christians who love and value the working class enough to live amongst them; to love and honour them; to be an advocate and a voice for them. To proclaim a message of hope, justice and Good News to them. Just like Alfred Salter.