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Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
What politicians can learn from Thomas More
Tower of London
Henry VIII imprisoned More in the Tower of London
The Pope is reportedly set to announce that Sir Thomas More, who was beheaded for defying Henry VIII, is to become the patron saint of politicians.

What lessons can a man who died in 1535 give to today's breed of spinners and dealmakers?

1) A promise is a promise

Not one to change his mind when it became convenient, More was executed because he would not swear an oath which accepted Henry VIII was head of the church - he remained committed to the supremacy of the Pope.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton: Compared to More and found wanting?
US Republican Henry Hyde cited More during President Clinton's impeachment hearing, saying: "Sir Thomas More went to his death rather than take an oath in vain."

He added words from Sir Robert Bolt's play of More's life, A Man for All Seasons: "As he told his daughter, Margaret, 'When a man takes an oath, Meg, he's holding his own self in his hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then - he needn't hope to find himself again."

2) Quotability

Just as it was in the 16th Century, saying things which people will notice is a critical skill for politicians.

Pluck up thy spirits, man - my neck is very short!

Sir Thomas More to his executioner
When he was about to be beheaded, More is said to have told the governor of the Tower of London: "I pray you, see me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself."

He is then said to have to have told the executioner: "Pluck up thy spirits, man. My neck is very short!"

And when he moved his beard away from where it would be hit by the blade: "It were a pity it should be cut off, it has done no treason."

And for someone who was so quotable, he also fought for the rights of other quotable politicians - for true freedom of speech in Parliament.

3) In touch with the people

More is said to have enacted some of the most enlightened laws of Tudor times, such as introducing the system of bail and outlawing benevolences - forced gifts of money given to the King.

He also commanded that laws be written in English, rather than Latin, so the common people could read the legislation.

Hospitable, More gave room to a Dutch scholar, Desiderius Erasmus, who became his great friend, and who later described his simple taste in food and drink.

Many spoke of his generosity - he gave his executioner a gold coin for his trouble.

4) 'Hinterland'

The former chancellor of the exchequer Dennis Healey once said that Baroness Thatcher lacked a "hinterland" - something else in life apart from politics.

Baroness Thatcher:
Baroness Thatcher: Beyond Westminster
More certainly had that.

He was a lawyer, a scholar, an interpreter, an author in most genres, a logician.

He nearly became a monk, he ran a school to give classical and Christian education, and he was generous to the poor even though not being rich himself.

5) Man of ideas

More's most famous work, Utopia, has become a byword for an ideal place or perfect state of affairs. The name comes from the Greek, meaning "no place".

The book describes a state where everything is governed by reason, not by greed, corruption or self-interest.

It was a powerful statement of humanism; many a modern politician's memoirs are barely remembered two weeks after they were published. More's work has lasted nearly 500 years.

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