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Something happens, not a story

21 November 2014

IT IS obvious to any casual reader of the newspapers that Canon Rosie Harper decided that the Church of England will have women bishops. She was pictured voting in The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, and The Guardian - where she appeared three times all over the top of the page. Are there really no other blondes in clerical collars who could help a picture editor out?

The Mail, inexplicably, passed up the opportunity to show Canon Harper fixing the destiny of the Church, settling for half-a-column of prose deep inside the paper.

The women-bishops vote was a difficult story, since there was no longer any real news value to it, but it still needed to be covered. Only a cynic would suppose - like my colleague Brute of The Beast - that the shadow of this large, if empty, story explained why it was such an excellent moment for the Archbishop of Canterbury to announce that he was postponing the next Lambeth Conference indefinitely, pending a decision about whether any of the potential invitees actually wanted another one.

The only other notable development came in the bookies' press releases. I have no idea how they choose the odds for who will be the next woman bishop. I suspect it is by reading the papers like everyone else, including those who write them.

What would be more interesting to know is whether anyone actually places any bets on any of the women named. I suspect that hardly anyone does, and the sudden plunge in odds for Jane Hedges meant no more than that someone somewhere had actually put a tenner on her for a bishop. That, and the fact that a well-timed press release gets the name of the bookies into the papers.

I got a small, personal moment of delight after the vote, when the Archbishop of Canterbury came into the press room to explain it, and I asked him about the theory that a woman could not be appointed to Southwell & Nottingham since it would have been illegal to appoint one when the long list was drawn up. "Nonsense." The joys of a straightforward answer are very great, at least when it is not my personal pet theory that is being shot down.

He did manage very well to say quite a lot without giving any headlines away. This is a skill in which he has made great progress over the past 18 months. I do hope I am giving a hostage to fortune here.

ARCHBISHOP WELBY certainly got a very favourable write-up in The Spectator, of all places: "This week, payday loan companies are facing reform (or in some cases oblivion) as new caps on interest payments come into effect. That the industry finds itself in this position is thanks, in no small part, to it having been hooked around the neck by the Archbishop's crosier.

"Welby has inspired reform of the industry not by trying to set himself up as the leader of the opposition in a cassock, but by acting as an effective leader of the Church of England. His approach to the payday-loan industry was not to demand that it be banned, he being aware that an even darker industry of doorstep loan sharks would replace it, but to compete with it head on."

If he can accomplish all that without actually setting up any credit unions, then possibly the Anglican Communion will be saved.

ELSEWHERE in the world, other stuff was happening. There was a wonderfully fatuous story in The Sunday Times: "In the week when Europeans succeeded in landing humanity's first probe on a speeding comet, a YouGov poll found only 15% of Britons believe life was created by a deity - while 19% think it began with organic compounds carried to Earth by comets."

I can't believe this for a second. The idea that one in five adult Britons know what "organic compound" means is laughable.

AND, from The New York Times, an extraordinary sidelight into the progress of Ebola. It turns out that the epidemic has been raging unchecked for months in a remote area of Guinea that bears a religious grudge. In the 1960s and '70s, the central government attempted to stamp out traditional religion there. Masks used in initiations and sacrifices were burnt.

As a result, hostility to outsiders is still so fierce that one party of journalists and officials, come to spread public-health information about containing the epidemic, were lynched and had their dismembered bodies dumped in a septic tank.

I do think it's progress that we don't automatically assume today that this behaviour is the natural consequence of idolatry, nor that Ebola is its punishment.

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