Archbishop “right to speak out” says spin doctor who said “we don’t do God”

Those within the coalition are not concerned about the principle of the Archbishop Rowan Williams speaking out, but that his remarks make uncomfortable reading.

Dr Rowan Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s critique of the coalition in the latest edition of the New Statesman has served to polarise opinion about the role that those of faith, particularly within the established church should play in public life.

On the one hand there are those such as the Conservative MP, Roger Gale who has responded to Rowan Williams comments by concluding:

“For him, as an unelected member of the upper house and as an appointed and unelected primate, to criticise the coalition government as undemocratic and not elected to carry through its programme is unacceptable.

Dr Williams clearly does not understand the democratic process. If he did, he would appreciate that elected members of the House of Commons are not mandated.”

Vince Cable, however, while stating that he was “baffled” by the criticism never the less welcomed the contribution from the Archbishop as part of the on-going “intense debate”.

And Tony Blair has used a series of interviews this morning to speak up for the rights of the clergy to make stands such as this, recalling of his own time in government:

“Obviously people used to criticise our policies not just on Iraq and foreign policy but on domestic policy and reform as well. It’s just part of the way things work. He’s perfectly entitled to put his position and I should imagine the government will say they’re pretty relaxed about it and get on with whatever they want to do.”

In this, he has been joined in a somewhat odd partnership with Lord Tebbit, who has said of the words used by Dr Williams:

“He is quite right that there are policies of the coalition for which nobody seemed to vote, and policies for which people voted which are not being carried through by the coalition.”

Even Alistair Campbell, who has so famously be associated with the tag line that we “don’t do God”, writing on his blog today argues:

“Rowan Williams is right to speak out, and right on the substance. As I know from my time in government, Archbishops can provoke and anger from time to time, but why shouldn’t they?

“They are people in important positions of moral and religious leadership, and part of their role must be to contribute to political and policy debate.”

While the debate around the wisdom, or otherwise of the Archbishop involving himself in the political sphere in this way will continue to be a source of controversy, the fact remains that he has a right to be able to say what he has. History is littered with examples of how those of faith have proved invaluable to social and political changes and developments.

It was William Wilberforce for example who led the campaign within parliament to end the slave trade, spurred on at the time by his conversion to Christianity.

And more recently Christian charities played a key role in leading the successful “Make Poverty History” campaign and the decisions by the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu in 2007 to cut up his dog collar live on the Andrew Marr programme in protest against the continued reign of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe met with little objection from politicians in the UK, despite the intensely political nature of what he had done.

It can only be concluded therefore that what those within the coalition are concerned about is not the principle of Rowan Williams speaking out, but the fact that the content of his remarks make for uncomfortable reading.

Indeed, if the government had real problems with the Church of England speaking out in this way, why then do their plans to reform the House of Lords include spaces for, an albeit smaller, number of bishops? Indeed, the Conservative Party chair, Baroness Warsi has herself declared that the coalition “does God”.

Perhaps the final words however should go to Gordon Brown. Someone who many will continue to mock, but who’s faith played and continues to play a key role to his political beliefs and aspirations.

Talking in February on the issue of Faith and Politics he concluded:

“And so let me end as I began: if we can elevate religious values to the heart of the debate about global development and our global society, can we continue to consign religious values to only the fringes of the debate about the future of our national economies and societies?

“My religion and reason tell me that we cannot for long be truly happy in any place when we see opportunities denied in every place; we cannot feel fully secure at any time when we know millions are feeling insecure just about all the time; and we cannot be wholly comfortable anywhere when the left out millions are found everywhere.

“So I conclude; yes, for people of faith there is the risk of the sin of commission. So we must be humble enough to guard against theocratic error when faith enters the public square. But yes too, there is a greater risk, the sin of omission and we must never again allow the voices of faith to feel excluded from their rightful role. So let the trumpet sound. The voices of faith must and will be heard.”

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18 Responses to “Archbishop “right to speak out” says spin doctor who said “we don’t do God””

  1. Mabel Horrocks

    Archbishop “right to speak out” says spin doctor who said “we don’t do God”: writes @EdJacobs1985

  2. J P

    RT @TheRightArticle: Archbishop “right to speak out” –

  3. Selohesra

    Of course he has every right to speak out even when he is talking out of his (_._)rse – however he should not expect his irrational belief in the great sky fairy to give his political opinions any more or less credibility than anyone elses. His left wing bias is old news and I doubt the government will lose much sleep over this.

  4. Joe Walker

    Spin doctor @campbellclaret say's Archbishop “right to speak out”: @leftfootfwd #Archbishop

  5. Tell it like it really is says

    I’m Rowan and I’m an Archbishop you know
    Stroking my beard, pontificating – though
    I Live in a palace my pen is my sabre
    I’m doing it ‘cos I’m batting for Labour
    Somebody’s got to, Red Ed is defunct
    In fact some would say Red Ed is a bit of a ……

  6. David

    Great article making a really important point. Very proud to be a Christian involved in politics today.

  7. Aaaaargh!

    It’s true, we didn’t vote for the coalition. Don’t remember anyone voting for Rowan Williams to speak for them either though.

  8. Steve

    What a stupid comment Selohesra. You can always tell a Tory.

  9. 13eastie

    “We are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted”,

    says the man who was appointed on the basis of a single vote solicited from the leader of the Labour Party! (If I recall correctly, Mr Blair converted to Roman Catholicism shortly afterwards).

    It does Dr Williams no credit at all to wear his political heart on his sleeve after such a fashion.

    Not only does each successive descent into party politics vitiate the dignity of his office, but it subverts the very credibility on which his ongoing authority (and what little remains of the Church’s in general) is established.

    Simply, no-one can any longer be sure of his motives.

    To combine the Archbishop’s themes of direct democracy and fear, my children have never voted for anything, yet it is they whom Labour has recklessly saddled with debts incurred through irresponsible, self-aggrandising “benevolence”. I never heard Dr Williams express any “fear” about this while Labour was in power, yet it is felt by parents throughout the country as keenly as any other.

    The parable of the Good Samaritan is curious in that, after numerous acts of kindness physical kindness, it concludes on the subject of money.

    Not only is it made quite clear that the Samaritan is spending his own money, but he commits to taking ongoing personal responsibility for the charity he has offered. And he does not suggest that anyone else (e.g. the inn-keeper) should be compelled to foot the bill. The story ultimately depicts a philosophical triumph of the individual over the hypocrisy and failure of the establishment. As we stare another left-wing economic catastrophe in the face, it is as relevant as ever.

    Genuine private or mutual social concern is certainly not solely rooted “firmly in a particular strand of associational socialism” as the Archbishop suggests.

    Today, countless Britons live in homes that were built by the likes of Guinness and Peabody before Labour or Co-Operative even existed.

    The implication that the left has some sort of monopoly in kindness or fairness is false; it is unbecoming of a man in Dr Williams’ position to seek disingenuously to propagate such a myth in the media.

    We can no longer trust anything this archbishop says.

  10. Mr Ranty

    Who elected God, Dr Williams?

  11. Νέα Νέμεσις Εργασίας

    You know you fucked up royally when you've got bad @campbellclaret on your side. Must be even worse for a man of God?

  12. Ed's Talking Balls

    Confused thinking all round.

    Firstly, criticising the mandate of the coalition in such a way is absurd. Of course not all policies enjoy popular support: no party won outright so no party can implement its entire manifesto. Presumably Williams would have us believe that several continental governments are illegitimate too…

    Secondly, education was an odd policy area to go after. The Conservatives, who gained the highest percentage of votes and seats, clearly stated their commitment to broadening the academy programme and introducing free schools: people clearly voted for these policies. And if he’s talking about higher education, only the Lib Dems opposed higher tuition fees and any fool can see that that was a promise made in the expectation that they would never govern.

    Of course Williams is entitled to an opinion and it’s fine by me if he publicises it. But he should then become a legitimate target for attack and should be prepared to back up the nonsense which he spouts. Further, I don’t think anyone should be deceived into thinking that he speaks for all Anglicans in this country. Plenty of them were dismayed by his comments regarding sharia law and plenty happen to have differing political views. Thank goodness.

    Lastly, I’m not sure why this article quotes Gordon Brown, unless it was done to end on a humorous note. He speaks of denial of opportunity when he denied opportunity to many throughout his tenure, and he talks about the voice of faith being heard while his party’s politically correct agenda led to people being told not to wear crucifixes at work. Ironic.

  13. Laughing Gravy

    I think Archbishop Williams has blundered in this intervention. He is entitled to his views, indeed he is entitled to express them, but his position as Archbishop is part of the constitutonal settlement and that requires a degree of circumspection. He is the Primate of an established church which is not only inclusive of Anglicans but of other christians also, and as such he needs to pick his words with care. By the form of words he has chosen, together with the periodical he used to broadcast those words, his opinions have become partisan and therefore divisive. He has politicised his office in the most dangerous way as well as annoying those Anglicans – and others – who support the present government. The Archbishop, by virtue of his position, has access to the Prime Minister (or any other minister). There is no indication that he attempted to speak to the government in private to express his concerns or even to attempt to change policy. Apparently he did not have the courtesy to let Downing St know that he intended to publish his broadside. However one views the merits of the case he puts forward, this is no way for a senior public figure to behave.

  14. Selohesra

    Steve = flippant comment maybe but I’m certainly not a Tory any more

  15. Broken OfBritain

    Archbishop “right to speak out” says spin doctor who said “we don’t do God”: writes @EdJacobs1985

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