MP Shines Light on Inspirational 'Forgotten' Bright

The Birmingham Post (England), November 24, 2011 | Go to article overview

MP Shines Light on Inspirational 'Forgotten' Bright


Byline: JONATHANWALKER

Ahigh-profile Midland politician is keeping the memory of one of Birmingham's greatest MPs alive with a new book celebrating the life and achievements of John Bright.

Parliament is commemorating the 200th anniversary of Bright's birth, on November 16, 1811, with an exhibition in the House of Commons estate.

But the great statesman, who represented Birmingham as an MP from 1858 until his death in 1889, has languished in relative obscurity compared with contemporaries such as Gladstone, Disraeli and Joseph Chamberlain.

Staffordshire MP Bill Cash (Con Stone) has set out to change that, with the publication of a biography of Bright called John Bright: Statesman, Orator, Agitator - a labour of love which has taken him 20 years to write.

Mr Cash has a family link, as his great-grandfather was John Bright's cousin. The connection doesn't end there. Bright was "the quintessential backbencher", according to Mr Cash - always prepared to speak his mind and stand up for what he believed was right, even if it meant disagreeing with his party or going against the grain of fashionable opinion.

For Mr Cash, a backbench MP who has defied his own party leaders on occasion, Bright has been an inspiration.

The Staffordshire MP is wellknown for speaking out in defence of the sovereignty of the UK against encroachment by the European Union, both when his views are fashionable, as perhaps they are today, and when they were not.

Speaking to The Birmingham Post, Mr Cash said: "People need to know more about John Bright because he is such an inspiration to our democratic system. He was a founder of democracy at Westminster through the Reform Act.

"It was altogether a remarkable career. He changed the face of British politics. And he has been largely forgotten, if not in Birmingham then elsewhere.

"He is an inspiration to any aspiring politician and the question we have to face now is whether we are living up to the standards he set. I think we have some way to go."

Bright was a Quaker and member for most of his political career of the Liberal Party. Although originally a Manchester MP, he became part of Birmingham's great reforming tradition.

One of his earliest campaigns was against the Corn Laws, which were designed to protect British farmers by prohibiting cheap foreign imports. Critics claimed they pushed up the price of bread, causing poverty and starvation. …

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