BISHOPS on the Left in the Church of England have welcomed the appointment of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.
His election, announced on Saturday, had put “justice back on the agenda”, the Bishop of Willesden, in London, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, said on Tuesday.
“What is needed is a complete reappraisal of the way in which our national politics operates. Many are fed up with the culture of Westminster: the scandal over Parliamentary expenses, the lack of attention to democratic deficit, the farce of PMQs, the cosy and sycophantic relationship with the press, the consensus around ‘middle ground’.
“The rise of the SNP in Scotland, and now the election of Jeremy Corbyn, have energised people who were previously disillusioned and disenfranchised into political debate and engagement, which is to be welcomed.”
The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, suggested that the sort of debate called for in the House of Bishops’ pre-election letter — “We called for a conversation that took us away from ‘sterile arguments about who might manage the existing system best’ in favour of ‘a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be’” — had failed to materialise. “However, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, we may just be about to have it now.
“Far from being a one-sided debate, or merely an internal conversation within the Labour Party, the political tide that has swept Corbyn to what a few weeks ago would have looked a very unlikely landslide victory, has created a new environment. Now, across the spectrum from Right to Left, all politicians are being pressed to dig a bit deeper into their values and core beliefs. From austerity and welfare, through the role of nuclear deterrence, to Britain’s attitude to those fleeing violence, the big conversation we failed to hold last spring can now begin.”
Bishop Broadbent agreed: “It can only be good that we are being asked to look at radical alternatives to austerity, that justice is back on the agenda, that the domination of market economics is being challenged, that the poor and the migrant don’t have to be demonised.
“I’m not naïve enough to suppose that the Establishment won’t fight back. You can see this already happening in the press smear campaigns against Corbyn and the howls of anguish from New Labour that their approach has been rejected. But it’s healthy, in a democracy, to have a proper debate about values and where our society is going. Christians in all parties need to get involved.”
Mr Corbyn attracted critical comment during his first days as leader on matters that included the gender balance of the new Shadow Cabinet, and his Shadow Chancellor’s comments on the IRA.
Mr Corbyn’s attendance at St Paul’s Cathedral for a Battle of Britain 75th-anniversary service, when he refrained from singing the National Anthem, provoked accusations of disrespect, rudeness, and poor attire. The BBC later reported Labour sources as saying that, in future, Mr Corbyn would join in.
Mr Corbyn’s first engagement after his election was a rally in London for solidarity with refugees. On Sunday, before forming his Shadow Cabinet, he appeared at Camden and Islington NHS Mental Health Trust’s Fun Day.
Mr Corbyn opposes the benefit cap, and has rounded on his critics. “We will bring down the Welfare Bill in Britain by controlling rents and boosting wages, not by impoverishing families and the most vulnerable people,” he told the Trades Union Congress on Tuesday.
“They call us ‘deficit deniers’, but then they spend billions in cutting taxes for the richest families and for the most profitable businesses. What they are is ‘poverty deniers’,” he said. Austerity was “a political choice that this Government has taken, and they are imposing it on the most vulnerable and poorest in our society”.
A rise in Labour membership followed the election on Saturday: more than 30,000 had joined by Wednesday. Dr Walker welcomed signs of renewed engagement: “Let’s not leave it to professional politicians to carry out on our behalf. Rather, as the House of Bishops letter urged, let’s all join in.”
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said: “At least politics will not be boring in the next few years.”