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A new PM; an old CT

15 July 2016

A new PM

THE only person who appeared not to be surprised by Theresa May’s move to Downing Street was Mrs May herself. Her understated, unruffled exterior really does seem to disguise an unruffled interior. There are few more reliable indicators of character than the testimonies of co-workers, especially those in subordinate positions, and the signals from those who worked for Mrs May at the Home Office are encouraging. She is reportedly humane and diligent, and makes sure she is prepared for most eventualities, even when they come at her at the speed we saw this week. We hope that the pressures of office do not interfere with her churchgoing.

Her sudden appearance as the head of the Government, without a vote even from her own party members, prompted calls for an early general election. To accede would be to admit that the country elects a presidential figure rather than a network of constituency MPs. This is uncomfortably close to reality. Media exposure means that party leaders are much better known than the people actually voted for. Why else would the Parliamentary Labour Party be so keen to defenestrate Jeremy Corbyn? But this pressure should be resisted. Better to shore up the fiction of local representation in the hope that its stock improves. We have seen a recent desire to indulge second thoughts. This is still, by and large, the same Government elected in 2015, pursuing the same policies — bar one, of course.

Naturally, the desire for a fresh election is connected with the EU vote last month. But, as General Synod members acknow­ledged in their debate last Friday, a second referendum would contribute to the alienation felt by large sections of the electorate. If the public is to be consulted again, it could only be when the substance and consequences of a particular exit plan are known; and to retain a right to use the reverse gear would require Brussels to relax its refusal to negotiate until Article 50 is triggered. This would be a challenging task for any prime minister.


An old CT

IT IS not often about us, but on this occasion it is. The Church Times has produced 8000 issues since its foundation in 1863. It is a privilege that the staff never fail to appreciate. When the Church does things right, as, with the grace of God, it often does, it is a joy to bring the news to readers. When it falls short, it is an honour to be the conduit through which so many ideas for improvement flow. On these pages, numbering in their millions, tradition and novelty alike are tested, and, as a consequence, the Church can function as a national and international body, greater than the sum of its members.

The waters that used to keep so many newspapers afloat, national, regional, and local, have receded in recent decades. Some independent publications, such as the Church Times, have invested enough in new technology to remain shipshape, but many have gone under. Katharine Viner, writing in The Guardian this week, argues that a strong journalistic culture is worth fighting for — “media organisations that put the search for truth at the heart of everything, building an informed, active public that scrutinises the powerful”. Like her, we detect a turning of the tide in favour of intelligent journalism and against ill-informed celebrity clickbait dictated by a Facebook or Google algorithm — but there is still no sign of a robust business model to support this.

The Church Times is fortunate to function under the radar of the social-media giants, and continues to enjoy the business model that sustained so many newspapers in the past: a readership willing to pay a small sum to be informed, challenged, and entertained, and a collection of businesses and charities who see the value in advertising their services (and parishes their vacancies) to those readers. Every day, as journalists, we are grateful for the reach and instant relationship with our readers which the digital revolution has given us — and which makes the concept of weekly issues a little redundant. We are equally grateful, though, for the confidence our readers and advertisers have in us which con­tinues to nurture this enterprise. Newspapers made from trees still have their worth. If they fall, like trees they are hard to replace. If they are healthy, what a prospect they afford.

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