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Landmark urban growth report was branded as 'Marxist analysis'

08 January 2016


Back then: the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, talking to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in 1983

Back then: the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, talking to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in 1983

THE landmark Faith in the City report was condemned as endorsing a “Marxist analysis” of society by one of Margaret Thatcher’s key advisers, newly released government papers have shown.

Brian Griffiths, who was head of the Number 10 Policy Unit in the mid-1980s, criticised the report for blaming societal injustice and government policy for poverty in the inner-cities, rather than encouraging the poor to take personal responsibility for their predicament.

Faith in the City, a nearly 400-page examination of life and religion in poor inner-city regions, was commissioned by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. Before it was released, in December 1985, the contents were leaked to the press and described by an unnamed Cabinet minister as “pure Marxist theology”.

Now, Cabinet Office archives released in the New Year show that many of those close to Mrs Thatcher agreed. Mr Griffiths wrote a summary of Faith in the City for the Prime Minister, saying: “There is . . . running throughout the Report a deep hostility to government policy and the philosophy on which it is based.

“Its own approach is collectivist, determinist, and Keynesian. The inner-city problems will be solved through bigger government.”

The essence of “Marxist analysis” is that inequality is caused by conflict between the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, Mr Griffiths wrote. The Church’s report analyses the problems of poverty in “similar terms; namely the exploitation of ‘the poor’ (15 million) by ‘comfortable Britain’ (the rest).”

Another memo on the report submitted to Mrs Thatcher accused Faith in the City of being an “unwitting dupe of the extreme left”. Hartley Booth wrote that the chapter on law and order “could play a dangerous role in subverting support for hard-pressed forces of law and order, and in whipping up racial tensions.”

“The Church should learn how Lenin intended that a prime target of attack in a capitalist society should be the police,” he also said.

The report, which led to the creation of the Church Urban Fund and addressed many of its recommendations at the Church of England, not just the state, sparked a major row with the Government.

The report highlighted what it saw as the Government’s “dogmatic and inflexible” economic policies, and lamented the “unacceptable” impact of high unemployment.

Although Labour MPs described it as “magnificent” in parliamentary debates, the Conservative MP Nicholas Fairbairn said it was a "wretched document . . . hubristic, sanctimonious, self-righteous, and irreligious".

Writing in the Church Times for the 25th anniversary of the publication of Faith in the City, Prebendary Pat Dearnley, who was appointed by Archbishop Runcie to lead the Church’s response to the report, said that the criticism by the Thatcher government generated more publicity for the Church’s findings than would have otherwise occurred (Comment, 1 December 2010).

A Church Times leading article concluded that the Archbishop’s Commission that produced Faith in the City had done a "major and radical job" in bringing together so much insight into the "challenge of Britain’s new ghettos".

"What they have to say may often seem disturbing to a Church which is predominantly middle-class, still substantially rural and almost entirely white.

"To ignore it or to ridicule it would merely be to encourage the Militant Tendency, the National Front, and other extremist bodies which now aim at the destruction not only of the nation’s basic consensus but also of the nation’s whole tradition."

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