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Press: Money and mores: a tale of two middle classes

09 March 2018


HOW are the mighty fallen! The Daily Telegraph reports that the police are considering investigating Lord Carey for his part in the attempted rehabilitation of Bishop Peter Ball in the 1990s; the Mail repeats the story. And yet the man was once a columnist for the News of the World.

I think, myself, that he has suffered enough: a man who was surely led astray in this case by snobbery as much as anything else, and who had himself been the victim of so much snobbery, must feel his present humiliation very keenly. And it should be remembered, to his credit, that he did nothing to protect the paedophile chairman of both SPCK and the Athenaeum’s wine committee, Patrick Gilbert, when that scandal blew up.


TWO vignettes of the place of the Church of England among the middle classes of London this week: in one, people half believe but don’t go to church, though they support it financially; in the other, regular attendance and, no doubt, wonderful statistics result in no belief at all.

The Spectator had a diary item by Andrew Marr which showed some of the good that a parish church can do, even to people who do not remotely suppose that what is believed there is true.

The piece suddenly swerved away from the delights of Primrose Hill, in north London, to the miseries of the adjoining region, known as north Camden: “Just round the corner, virtually out of sight, is some of the worst depriva­tion in north London — huge poverty, so easy to look away from. A local church, St Mary’s, which has a wonderful youth programme, warns of ‘a threatening gang culture, extensive drug dealing and frequent stabbings . . . many young people cannot safely enter certain streets. . . Many fear leaving their homes because of violence.’ And they are right to be scared. Four young people have died on the streets of north Camden so far this year. Many more have been stabbed, or threatened with knives.

“St Mary’s is stepping forward because, with cutbacks in local authority support and intense pressure on schools, the state is failing. Led by a charismatic youth worker called Jason Allen (we have local heroes too), the church’s community trust has been working intensively with more than 200 young people at risk. It runs weekly football to get others off the street and towards help; has intervened with gangs; has been organising weapon surrenders — including one firearm — and it helps ex-prisoners coming home to get jobs. . . It’s as if we’re tiptoeing back to the Britain before the welfare state, when there was much more voluntary engagement. Clem Attlee, don’t forget, started his career as a youth worker in the East End.

“Meanwhile, surrounded by an epidemic of stabbing, St Mary’s, like other churches, is desperately short of cash.”

So, Marr goes on to say, he and others in the community are subsidising the church as a means of social engagement, and to give something back to the area around them.

The Times had a remarkably honest piece, by an anonymous author, about a more typical interaction: “The moment we decided that our daughter would have to leave her primary school was when a dad in the play­ground punched another dad in the face and we witnessed a woman swearing obscenely at the headmaster. There were lots of disparate groups separated by language, culture and class, and a hopeless lack of assimilation. . .

“We were not near the outstanding schools because a coveted school makes properties in the area unaffordable, which in turn makes an excellent primary unobtainable for those who would benefit from a good education — those on free school meals.

“At about the time we decided to get our daughter out I met a mum in the park who told me about a local church primary. She said it was excellent. It had an art room, a gym and a kitchen where the children learnt to cook, and the headmistress was superb, a force of nature. Some pupils went on to take the 11-plus and get into top independent secondary schools. A well-known actor sent his children there. ‘How do I get her in?’ I asked.

“‘Well, you need to go to church. You will need a church reference.’”

So they do; for a year or more, she and her husband go to church. They befriend the vicar and her partner.

After their daughter gets into the primary school, they then realise they have another five years of church attendance to get her into the secondary school.

They buckle down; the mother even joins “the evening prayer and meditation group” — and then, quite unexpectedly, the daughter wins a scholarship to an independent school. “We have not been to church since. I do think about the vicar. I would like to see her, but I feel too guilty about abandoning church.”

I love the way in which this is entirely a story of manners. Her difficulty with the vicar is one of embarrassment, not disbelief; for she seems never to have considered seriously the possibility of believing any of it.

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