The Right Honourable Lord Alton of Liverpool has had a long and distinguished career in politics and activism.
Best known for his pro-life stance and human rights campaigning, Lord Alton often speaks up for the poor and marginalised in the House of Lords.
David was elected to the House of Commons in 1979, which made him the youngest MP in the House. He resigned from his position as chief whip in 1987 when the Liberal party took a pro choice stance on abortion.
He has authored 11 books, is the vice president of the Bible Society and a patron or trustee of a variety of charities including Right to Life, Crisis and Habitat for Humanity.
1. When did you first gain an interest in politics?
As a teenager I got involved in politics. There were big world events going on. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King had both been assassinated. Russian tanks were trundling into Czechoslovakia and there were controversial measures going through parliament.
My parents had a great passion for what was going on in the world around them. I was brought up to believe that you couldn’t complain about things if you weren’t prepared to try and do something about it.
2. When you were elected in 1979, you were the youngest MP in Parliament. What led to this?
As a student living in the inner city of Liverpool, I was living in an area where half the homes had no inside sanitation, running hot water or bathrooms. I felt people deserved better than that so I stood for the local council and was elected when I was 21.
I fought what was called a ‘hopeless seat’ two years later but I came a good second. I thought; ‘if 30% of people were willing to vote for me now, maybe more will do later?’ A by-election came along four years later and I was elected to the house.
But if I wanted a political career I would have been pretty foolish joining a party that had six members of parliament and 4% in the opinion polls when I joined it. I just think people should take an interest in the world around them. Get involved and try and make some kind of difference.
3. Do you think more Christians need to be involved in politics?
Yes I do. Pilate washed his hands of his responsibility and said it was nothing to do with him, but it was everything to do with him because he had political power and responsibility that he failed to use. In every generation, all of us are called on to try and take a stand and make a difference.
4. Why do some Christians shy away from politics?
Politics isn’t a communion of saints and that’s why some folks run a mile. Some people won’t like some of the things you say and do, but that shouldn’t deter anyone. Doing nothing never changed anything.
The World Bank say around 800 million people are wrecked by starvation. The Jewish Rabbi who said that 'the man who saves a single life, saves the world', was right. You may not be able to solve the problems of all of those people, but you can do something about some of them or maybe even one of them.
5. You stepped down from being an MP after the Liberal Democrats made support for abortion a party policy. Was that a difficult decision?
Yes it was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, but I had to take the decision that I thought was right. I thought ‘I can’t live with this’. My political instincts today would remain firmly Gladstonian in their impulse and I’m still very much rooted into the causes that I’ve always cared about.
6. What is your book Pilgrim Ways about?
It came out of a conversation with my daughter. We were visiting Glastonbury and she said ‘what happened to the monks?’ It was a good question. I started writing about Glastonbury and I thought I’d visit some of the other pilgrim sites. In the stones there is a story which I thought was worth recording.
One of the nicest letters I’ve ever had is from a lad who says he’s only got two books in the box on the back of his motorcycle. One is his atlas and the other is Pilgrim Ways, which he says he uses when he travels around the country to go and see some of these places in the book.
7. What is the situation like in North Korea and what has led you to campaign about it?
A North Korean came to see me. He lost his wife and two children in the famine where two million people died and his other boy died when he tried to escape.
I raised his plight in a debate in the House and I’ve been to North Korea three or four times since. The United Nations estimate there are 300,000 currently in prison camps, there’s malnutrition on the streets and people there suffer greatly. Whatever one thinks of the ideology or the system there are human beings behind it who are all made in the image of God and therefore worthy of our love, care and respect.
Given the political changes that have been occurring in North Korea, let’s hope and pray that it will be a reform process and we will see the emancipation of people in North Korea.
8. What’s the best Christian book you’ve read?
I still find Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis very, very inspiring. Dag Hammarskjold who ran the United Nations and sadly died in a plane crash – the book was found in his possession when he died and a lot of people have had a lot of comfort from the book over the years.
9. What issues do you hope will come to the forefront in 2012?
Yesterday I raised a question in the house to support Baroness Kinnock who’d asked a question about the famine in Niger which has had very little profile. 5.2 million people are at risk there and part of it is to do with the violence erupting in Nigeria, where people are being killed for their faith, which is leading to an exodus in refugees and that in turn is playing into the famine.
I don’t know what the big political questions will be as the year goes by but I hope people will keep their eyes on places like North Korea, South Sudan and the plight of the Copts in Egypt.
10. What has God been teaching you recently?
You can’t solve everything but you should at least try and do something.
February 24th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes