9 Jun 2011

Will Archbishop’s criticism spark repeat of 1980s?

David Cameron weighed in on the row with Dr Rowan Williams just now. The gist of it is that “I defend the Archbishop’s right to speak on politics but he’s talking tosh” (I paraphrase). 

Earlier, there was speculation that the PM wouldn’t want to go near this. But he joins Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Liam Fox, Iain Duncan Smith and Sir George Young who have all been saying, with carrying degrees of directness and warmth, something similar.

This doesn’t nearly match though the old days when Robert Runcie waged war with Margaret Thatcher  – their terms in office (unhappily for both) heavily over-lapped. In October 1984 Dr Runcie accused the government of seeking “confrontation” and voiced concern about the miners’ strike.

Nicholas Fairburn piled in on Mrs Thatcher’s behalf and said the then Archbishop of Canterbury should eat coal in public to show penance. The month before that, the Bishop of Durham said – at his enthronement – “the miners must not be defeated.” David Sheppard, then Bishop of Liverpool, regularly attacked the government’s economic policies.

Read more: Archbishop of Canterbury criticises Coalition

When the Church produced its Faith in the Cities report one Cabinet minister was quoted as calling it “pure Marxist theology.” Has Rowan Williams fired the starting gun for a similar spiritual slug-fest? And is the government up for one?   

No. 10 says it simply heard what the Archbishop had said – “a political intervention in a left wing magazine,” one No. 10 source said – and decided instantly that the arguments needed to be taken on. No one’s got round to pondering yet whether this is a longer term church strategy requiring a matching strategy from government. 

As for the constitutional issue that the Archbishop raises, we spoke to Professor Philip Norton (now a Tory peer), longstanding professor of politics. What did he think about the Archbishop’s main constitutional gripe? Dr Williams seems to be worried that not only did the Coalition concoct an agreement, its programme for government, that wasn’t in the manifesto of either party, but worse than that it isn’t a compromise between two manifestos but an altogether different beast that goes further than either party dared to do in its respective manifesto. Dr Norton says that’s largely the nature of coalitions, who rules parliament always decides what gives … he gives Dr Williams a “beta minus.”

Tweets by @garygibbonblog

11 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    Dr Norton may be correct in terms of political theory, but I suspect the Archbishop reflects the views of many voters.

  2. Gary says:

    I’m an agnostic myself but, I tend to agree with the comment that was made about the mishmashed manifesto for the coalition. I never got a chance to vote on that agenda and I feel that I am being treated as a nobody by the government.

    If rhey want our support in future then they need to listen now!

    1. Mudplugger says:

      When did we get a chance to vote for the Archbishop of Canterbury ?
      Or any of the other 25 bishops who get free seats in the Upper Chamber of our alleged democracy ?

    2. Gary says:

      One thing you need to now about the chuch and its leaders. They “Listen” to the voices of the public.

  3. Ray Turner says:

    His Archbishopness is quite right actually. The Government is implementing policies that we didn’t vote for.

    I’ve said this before, but I think the single biggest mistake that the Coalition Government has made, was in not putting the coalition agreement to a striaghtforward Yes/No referendum once the two parties had reached an agreement.

    If we’d had a No vote, they needed to think again or hold another general election.

    If we’d had a Yes vote, they could get on with the job and have a real mandate to do so.

    Its a lesson to be learned for next time…!

  4. Woo says:

    I felt so thankfull that at last someone of Dr Rowan Williams standing is coming out and saying it as it is. This is very real pain that he is speaking of, not some theory. Both parties of the Coalition have for instance lied about their plans for the NHS, they have absolutely no mandate casting even more doubt on this country’s system of democracy.

  5. Kes says:

    Rowan’s utterances have almost always been total reality-remote blather and this is no different except that it appears to have a political agenda behind it. He is entitled to say what he likes as is everyone (except if it’s not strictly pc of course). Sadly, he has missed the whole point that created the coalition, which by definition will be an uncomfortable one.

    Only the Lib Dems entered the election with thoughts of being part of a coalition. The coalition was formed to bind politicians with a majority of the votes cast to actually address the formidable problems inherited from the Labour government. Any such process requires a blank sheet to begin with.

    As an unelected anachronism, Rowan should not expect much credence to be given to his views outside a certain political group.

  6. Saltaire Sam says:

    Apart from the fact that his position gives him the chance to get coverage of these views, the simple fact is that the Archibishp is correct.

    Firstly neither conservatives nor lib dems won a mandate for their manifesto. To then believe that coming up with even more extreme policies in a coalition is justified is stretching the concept of democracy to breaking point.

    Many of us looked forward to coalition government because we thought it would bring an end to extreme ideological policies, instead it has become more extreme than even Blair and Thatcher managed with massive majorities.

    We need more people like Williams to speak out and keep the debate alive and the pressure on the government because Cameron and Co certainly don’t give a fig about what ordinary people say.

  7. Andrew Dundas says:

    In the Arch-bish’s favour is that the coalition’s policies were neither voted upon by the public nor either of their party’s members. Which might be why so many Lib-Dems have departed to join other Parties. Many Tories are disgusted too.
    Truth is that the facts of the world’s and the UK’s financial positions following The Wall St. crash were very well known before the election. And turn out to be not as bad as supposed a year ago.
    Moreover, it was not as bad a situation as Labour ‘inherited’ in 1997. Where millions of pension payees had been swindled, there were insufficient doctors to replace retirees and trains fell off their tracks. Putting right those and more, cost Billions of pounds and took many years.
    There are always problems that Governments need to deal with. Most get on with it without jabbering.
    It ill becomes any government to use ‘problems’ as an excuse to attack the poorest and most vulnerable.

  8. Gary says:

    Unlike the Government, the Church actually “listen” to the public!

  9. matt says:

    The Archbishop is right but this lot will not listen

Comments are closed.