PEOPLE talk as if Margaret Thatcher did nothing for the Church
of England. At least her funeral seems to have kept the latest
lucubrations on marriage by the Faith and Order Commission out of
the headlines. This is fair enough, since no one in the outside
world was part of its intended audience.
Instead, we had the wonder-working earring of the Bishop of
Grantham. Its mere presence in a headline allowed readers to know
that he was a bad lot. I should say here that I know nothing
whatever about him, but that's the way showbusiness works: a bishop
with an earring is a dangerous radical, whereas a bishop in a frock
is a reliable traditionalist.
It is never easy to tell from the outside whether there is an
element of sincerity in the Mail's distress. Its headline
on the bishop story was a case in point: "Now earring-wearing
Bishop of Grantham attacks funeral cost". Is that "now" supposed to
suggest that the nation would have united around her, were it not
for those pesky pinko bishops?
I was also impressed, despite years of experience, by the
remarkably low standard of the rentaquotes it found for the story.
One Tory MP claimed it was absurd for a bishop to have an opinion,
since the Queen, "who is head of the Church of England" had signed
off on the arrangement.
Compare this with the interesting and subtle points made in the
Telegraph's long piece on the religious development of
Lady Thatcher, by the historian Eliza Filby. This made some fairly
obvious points that are easily forgotten: "Thatcherism always owed
more to Methodism than it ever did to monetarism. This was the real
source of Mrs Thatcher's 'conviction politics'.
"Thatcherism centred on a charismatic leader who cultivated a
religious aura, was promoted like a religion, had notable converts
like a religion, was rejected like a religion, and would cause a
sharp divide within the nation like that of a religious war from
And, like a religion, Thatcherism offered a way for society to
understand itself, and, wrapped up in that, an anthropology as
well: an idea of what an individual is, and where they are distinct
from the society and the others around them. These things work only
when they are self-evident, and one of the many contradictions of
Thatcherism was that its economic and social effects were so very
corrosive of self-evidence. Nothing could, any longer, be taken for
granted. And perhaps this means that even the Daily Mail's
anguish at having to justify the wonderworking good-ness of Lady
Thatcher has somewhere a smidgeon of sincerity.
The Filby piece also contained details of which I had been
unaware. The woman who introduced unlimited Sunday trading was
brought up in a profoundly Sabbatarian household: "Their Methodism
centred on an absolute observation of the Sabbath. Adhering to the
letter of the Fourth Commandment, board games, sewing, and even
newspapers were forbidden. . .
"Her childhood catechism shows no signs of boredom; no doodles
or names of boys encased within a heart and arrow, only the
markings suggestive of an attentive scholar with the words
'service' and 'sin' under- lined."
The final irony comes in the only one of her father's sermons to
have been preserved: a denunciation of the Attlee government on the
grounds that: "Men, nations, races or any particular generation
cannot be saved by ordinances, power, legislation."
I wonder what Alderman Roberts would make of the claim that his
daughter, her ordinances, her powers, and her legislation, had
saved this country in the 1980s. No doubt he would have accepted it
whole-heartedly. Without hypocrisy, conviction would be
I SUSPECT that the most lasting story of the week was actually
nothing to do with London, or even Boston, where the deaths of
three people in a bomb attack has been covered rather more
comprehensively than the deaths on the same day of 30 people in
bomb attacks in Baghdad. People dying violently in Iraq is hardly
news anywhere these days.
Pope Francis's appointment of eight cardinals to advise him on
church government might be the beginning of the end of the
traditional Curia. This is needed. There are some very fruity
scandals still to come in the wake of Vatileaks.
But, instead of attempting a head-on reform, he seems to have
prepared the Curia for a future of inglorious irrelevance. Is this
the Jesuit style?