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The Archbishop of Canterbury’s statesmanship: the debate continues

by
22 June 2011

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From Prebendary Richard Inglesby

Sir, — It is regrettable that the flak surrounding the Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Statesman editorial should obscure his basic premise: that our democracy has to be asking serious questions about where decision-making and ac­countability should lie. Inevitably, the arguments he employs are characterised as an attack on the Government, but his analysis goes much deeper.

The fact remains, however, that, as Tony Baldry MP says despairingly (Comment, 17 June), “In public life and politics, it is what is heard that matters.” The Archbishop was not helped by simplistic sound-bites from the BBC and headline-writers from both Left and Right, as Andrew Brown points out (Press, same issue).

All of us who make public utter­ances, whether in the parish or to a national audience, know the hazards. What we want to say and what others, especially detractors, hear is often very different. As his trial illustrates, our Lord himself knew this all too well.

Someone with the Archbishop’s intellect, authority, and knowledge, should be saying what he does at this time of our nation’s life. Atten­tion needs to be drawn to the shift­ing nature of our democracy, particularly as it makes an impact on the most vulnerable. His refer­ence to a biblical model of com­mun­ity is entirely valid.

The question may be asked: could he have said this differently, to avoid some of the misrepresentation that has ensued?

R. E. INGLESBY
All Saints’ Vicarage
5 Sutton Road, Moxley
Wednesbury
West Midlands WS10 8SG

From Mr Christopher Griffiths

Sir, — The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, is, no doubt, disappointed that the Archbishop of Canterbury has chosen to voice what many in the country are thinking about the path that the Coalition is taking us down with no electoral mandate.

Dr Williams’s measured com­ments spoke for the country a good deal more than do the policies of Mr Baldry’s colleagues on the Coalition benches, focused as they are on dismembering the NHS, demonising those on benefits, and making higher education the pre­serve of the well-off.

In these circumstances, it is en­tirely right that Dr Williams should speak out in a prophetic way. Thank God the days when the Church of England was the Tory party at prayer are long behind us.

CHRISTOPHER GRIFFITHS (Ordinand)
9 All Saints Flats, Manor Street
Cambridge CB1 1LQ

From the Revd Vic Price

Sir, — I can understand that Tony Baldry and his Conservative col­leagues might be upset by the Arch­bishop of Canterbury’s recent editorial in the New Statesman. What I find surprising — and, indeed, somewhat distasteful — is the implied threat in Mr Baldry’s Church Times article last week.

He wrote: “Later in this Parliament, the Church of England is going to want the understanding of MPs, not least when they debate the place of the Church of England in a reformed, mainly elected, Second Chamber. There is also the small matter of the legislation to enable the consecration of women as bishops.”

Are we seriously to believe that there are enough politicians pre­pared to act in a spirit of retaliation rather than with integrity — par­ticu­larly on a matter of doctrine, such as episcopacy? If so, disestab­lishment may well be forced back on to our agenda.

VIC PRICE
4 Holmefield, Farndon
Newark, Notts NG24 3TZ

From Canon Peter Mullins

Sir, — From where does the Second Church Estates Commissioner think that anyone could have picked up the idea that shouting at people is an acceptable form of political engage­ment?

Why does he imply that this category includes an Archbishop of Canterbury who guest-edits a political journal, gives significant space in it to government ministers, writes an editorial that en­courages them to explain things more fully, and copies it to all MPs, so that they do not think that dis­torted reporting represents what it says?

Does Mr Baldry think that shouting at politicians is more or less likely to decrease if he calls this approach “no good” and suggests, instead, that “what matters” is the distorted sound-bites that are heard?

PETER M. MULLINS
23 Littlecoates Road
Grimsby DN34 4NG

From the Ven. David Shreeve

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canter­bury rightly voiced the genuine concerns of a wide variety of people. Which “real world” is Dr David Dendy (Letters, 17 June) in? Would he please take note of the following.

First, the way in which reforms of the benefits system are being imple­mented will have serious effects on many of the most vulnerable people, as a number of non-political support groups and organisations have emphasised. These are not spongers.

Second, there was no mandate for a radical, top-down reorganisation of the NHS of the kind being pushed forward, and no need for it. Yes, continuing improvements can and should be made. Several well-informed professional bodies have already expressed their strong disapproval of the present Government’s original plans. I would not be alive today had it not been for the considerable improvements in the delivery of treatment for cancer patients — part of the progress in several areas of health-care achieved under the previous Government during the first decade of this cen­tury.

Third, the country is not bank­rupt. Government debt as a per-cent­age of GDP was very similar to what it had been in 1997 until the bank­ing crisis. As the Governor of the Bank of England pointed out in a statement earlier this year, the need for deep cuts in govern­ment ex­penditure is a direct result of the behaviour of the bankers.

He ex­pressed surprise that the general public are not angrier with the banks. The reason why is that the present administration has tried to deflect the blame away from them and on to the Labour Govern­ment.

The importance of Gordon Brown’s intervention to save the banking system is widely acknow­ledged internationally, however, as President Obama stated in his recent speech in Westminster Hall. Cuts are now necessary. The manner and speed of their implementation remain a valid matter of debate, and informed economic opinion is not unanimous.

DAVID SHREEVE
26 Kingsley Drive, Harrogate
North Yorkshire

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