THE Archbishop of York seems to have sources of inside political knowledge unavailable to the rest of his Church. Whereas various cathedrals and churches were gearing up to spend Tuesday praying about the vote on the EU Withdrawal Agreement, Dr Sentamu began on Sunday, clearly convinced, despite a further 24 hours of government assurances, that the vote would be pulled on Monday afternoon. It is certain that Theresa May is in need of prayer, and not simply because of the acrimonious split in her party that led to Wednesday’s leadership challenge.
Alighting on a topic for prayer is difficult, however. A good proportion of those prayers should be for the political structures of this country, neglected or ignored by Mrs May and the Government. Her opening speech on Monday invoked Leave voters: “On the morning after the referendum two-and-a-half years ago, I knew that we had witnessed a defining moment for our democracy. Places that did not get a lot of attention at elections, and did not get much coverage on the news, were making their voices heard and saying that they wanted things to change. I knew in that moment that Parliament had to deliver for them” — said at the very moment that the decision was being taken out of Parliament’s hands, an act described by the Speaker as “deeply discourteous”.
The politically disenfranchised areas of the UK have long been a subject for these pages. The slow but relentless withdrawal of political autonomy from these areas has taken place under the influence of the Conservatives, who, diverging from their historical position, have pulled both finance and power towards central government. Between the accession of the Conservative-led Coalition in 2010 and 2020, local councils will have lost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided for services, according to the Local Government Association. Local councils — and an effective local press to report their activities — are a crucial connection between the governed and those who govern them. Sever that link and it is no surprise that disaffection sets in.
The problem for Mrs May is that, while acknowledging this disaffection, she has undermined their final direct link with government, i.e. through their elected MPs. Furthermore, talk of honouring the people’s decision — made when no details of the practical consequences of leaving the EU were available — sits oddly with the near-apocalyptic language used about a second referendum. The people who voted calmly in 2016 have somehow transitioned into wild mobs, threatening unrest if approached directly about a decision that their representatives seem unable to make. The Dean of Lichfield said last week that he would be praying for “wisdom and integrity in our national life”. Amen to that.