THE House of Bishops has called on politicians to offer the
electorate a bigger vision of society in the run-up to the General
Election in May.
In a pastoral letter to the members of the Church of England,
released today, the Bishops note how both the Labour government of
1945, and then the Thatcher government, from 1979, "changed the
political weather". But neither of these two transformative
ideologies - either establishing a welfare state, or freeing
markets from state interference - were sufficient today.
"Neither vision addresses our condition," the bishops wrote.
"Placing excessive faith in state intervention on the one hand, or
the free market on the other", leads to a narrowing of ambition and
does not nurture the common good.
This is the first time that the House of Bishops has released
such a letter before an election. The letter, which is 126
paragraphs long, does not offer support to any party, but seeks to
encourage Anglicans to think how best to use their vote on 7
Acknowledging that people feel detached from politics, the
bishops said that the political parties had failed to offer
"attractive visions of the kind of society and culture they wish to
see. . . Instead, we are subjected to sterile arguments about who
might manage the existing system best." The letter calls for an end
to "retail politics", and for politicians to focus instead on the
common good rather than appealing to sectional interests.
The intervention has provoked some criticism. The Conservative
MP Nadine Dorries, who is a Christian, accused the bishops of being
left-wing and attacking only the Government. Speaking today on
Radio 4's Today programme, she said: "The Church is always silent
when people are seeking its voice, and yet seems very keen to dive
in on political issues when, actually, no one is asking it to.
Where were the bishops' voices when the last Labour government was
in a spending frenzy?"
Speaking at the launch of the letter, however, the Bishop of
Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said that the House of Bishops
did not have a preference for "any single political party or
programme. . . The letter] encourages Christians to engage
positively in our political processes, to use their vote, and to
value hard-won democratic freedoms."
The letter addresses a wide range of political issues, such as
the economy, inequality, the welfare system, immigration, housing,
the European Union, and the Trident nuclear deterrent. It does not
endorse particular policies, but offers more general reflections on
how Christian voters should approach these issues.
They should be wary of accumulations of power, the letter says,
whether in the state or the corporate sector. Instead, intermediary
institutions, such as housing associations or credit unions, should
be strengthened, and power handed down to a local level.
The immigration debate has an "ugly undercurrent of racism", and
has too often been framed in terms of "us" and "them", the letter
says. "Crude stereotyping is incompatible with a Christian
understanding of human social relationships."
The House of Bishops also warns against debt, whether personal
or national, and notes that "the greatest burdens of austerity have
not been borne by those with the broadest shoulders". On welfare
reform, the letter says that the state should support the needy,
but not to the exclusion of voluntary action and
New welfare policy announced. The Prime
Minister is to unveil a new Conservative policy today which would
require young adults on Jobseeker's Allowance to undertake 30 hours
of unpaid work a week if they have not found a job after six months
"What these young people need," Mr Cameron said, "is work
experience, and the order and discipline of turning up for work
each day. From day one, they must realise that welfare is not a
The plans were criticised by Labour politicians, who said that
their own policy of guaranteeing young people who are out of work
for six months a state-funded job would better tackle youth