DURING her time in office, Margaret Thatcher's relations with
the Church of England were often strained. When Robert Runcie was
appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1980, it began a decade in
which the Church's was often the strongest opposition voice.
As a result, the right-wing press was highly critical. Lord
Runcie told his biographer Humphrey Carpenter: "I remember Jim
Prior used to say to me: 'It's not that she [Thatcher] initiated
the attacks on you in the papers, but she could have called them
off at a moment's notice'" (Robert Runcie: The reluctant
archbishop (Hodder Headline, 1996).
The inner-city riots in 1981 began a debate about responsibility
for the poor. This culminated in the report Faith in the
City, published in 1985 by the Archbishop of Canterbury's
Commission on Urban Priority Areas. This was described by an
unnamed member of the Thatcher Cabinet - widely believed to have
been Lord Tebbit - as "pure Marxist theology".
Earlier, Mrs Thatcher was said to have taken exception to the
sermon preached by Archbishop Runcie at a service of thanksgiving
for victory in the Falklands War, at St Paul's Cathedral, in 1982.
Archbishop Runcie remembered the Argentinian dead, as well as the
British, and said: "Those who dare to interpret God's will must
never claim him as an asset for one nation or group rather than
Speaking to Mr Carpenter several years later, Lady Thatcher
said: "Some people say that you shouldn't celebrate victory. I
thought when you were celebrating victory over aggression, you
should do it." At the time, her husband Denis had reportedly told
MPs after the service: "The boss was angry enough this morning. Now
she is spitting blood."
Church leaders were also leading opponents against changes to
the welfare system. They took exception to the Prime Minister's
view, ex- pressed in a speech to the WRVS in 1981, "that the
volunteer movement is at the heart of all our social-welfare
provision; that the statutory services are the supportive ones,
underpinning where necessary, filling the gaps, and helping the
Not everyone in the Church was critical, however. There was
considerably sympathy, for example, for her views on personal
responsibility, expressed in her address in St Lawrence Jewry in
"It is one thing to say that the relief of poverty and suffering
is a duty, and quite another to say that this duty can always be
most efficiently and humanely performed by the state. . . Once you
give people the idea that all this can be done by the state, and
that it is somehow second-best or even degrading to leave it to
private people - it is sometimes referred to as 'cold charity' -
then you will begin to deprive human beings of one of the essential
ingredients of humanity: personal moral responsibility. You will,
in effect, dry up in them the milk of human kindness. . .
"I wonder whether the state services would have done as much for
the man who fell among thieves as the Good Samaritan did for
"I am not saying, of course, that the state has no welfare
functions. This would be wholly against the tradition of my Party.
We have always believed that there must be a level of well-being
below which a citizen must not be allowed to fall. Moreover, people
cannot realise their potential without educational opportunity. But
the role of the state in Christian Society is to encourage virtue,
not to usurp it."
There was, however, concerted opposition to the central view in
Thatcherism that there was "no such thing as society", from a
Woman's Own interview in 1987: "If children have a
problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as
society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people, and
the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will
depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility
for ourselves, and each of us prepared to turn round and help by
our own efforts those who are unfortunate."
This view was expounded in a second address in St Lawrence Jewry
in 1984: "It is to individuals that the Ten Commandments are
addressed. In the statements, 'Honour thy father and thy mother',
'Thou shalt not steal', 'Thou shalt not bear false witness', and so
on, the 'Thou' to whom these resounding imperatives are addressed
is you and me. In the same way, the New Testament is preoccupied
with the individual, with his need for forgiveness and for the
divine strength which comes to those who sincerely accept it.
"Of course, we can deduce from the teachings of the Bible
principles of public as well as private morality; but, in the last
resort, all these principles refer back to the individual in his
relationships to others."
Another prominent church critic was the Bishop of Durham, Dr
David Jenkins, who responded to the threatened closure of coal
mines in his diocese by an attack on Ian MacGregor, chairman of the
Coal Board, describing him as an "elderly, imported American".
Lady Thatcher responded to these criticisms in an address to the
General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1988, in which she
quoted St Paul: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
Early in her time as PM, in a television interview in 1980, she
had defended herself against the charge of promoting inequality:
"If opportunity and talent is unequally distributed, then allowing
people to exercise that talent and opportunity means more
inequality; but it means you drag up the poor people, because there
are the resources to do so. No one would remember the Good
Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions; he had money as