Remembering Michael Wilkes

Tributes are being paid to Michael Wilkes, former Lord Mayor of Birmingham, who died recently. Birmingham’s council cabinet held a minute’s silence in his memory.

michael wilkes 3Few remember that he was once a member of Warwickshire Monthly Meeting, Society of Friends. Sadly, at that time his meeting was experiencing serious and repeated conflict which was only resolved after time. Some moved to other meetings, some attenders became discouraged and Michael left the society.

Two months before he died, after being treated for cancer, he wrote a New Year’s blog and some of his ‘dispositions’ have a Quaker resonance:

  • Listening to others, being tolerant of other points of view and being prepared to admit that one’s own views might need to change. Wisdom does not belong to an exclusive few. Even where we think that wisdom is lacking, we should suffer ‘fools’ gladly, because it is right and because we may find ourselves amongst them.
  • Willingness to accept light from whatever quarter it may come. Some of the deepest insights come from the most unexpected sources – external and internal. Rule out no possible origins as possible providers of meaning.
  • Recognising the value of stewardship. Stewardship can contribute more to the common good than most ‘leadership’ and can take the form of leadership by example.
  • Cultivating a sense for the profound and the magnificence of the cosmos. Stillness and reflection in quiet places help in gathering the self, contemplating that which is beyond the self and in seeking personal meaning. Above our heads on a clear night we can look out in wonder on half of everything.

On the Our Birmingham website his radical constructive thinking was summarised; it included an emphasis on the restoration of equitable and redistributive taxation, the living wage, the plugging of many loopholes for tax avoidance, the undertaking of thorough corporate reform and the imperative to wind back globalisation.

This thinking was informed by his work as professor of economics at the University of Birmingham – the youngest to have achieved this position the writer has been told.


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