EVERYDAY exchanges in Parliament are often referred to anecdotally as swordplay — the cut and thrust of political debate. Blunter weapons have been employed of late, but essentially what we have seen in recent weeks is ploy and counter-ploy. The Government wished to give the impression that it could secure a workable deal to quit the European Union by 31 October; the Opposition, by and large, wished to give the impression that it was willing to treat the deal with respect. Both sides, of course, had an eye to the electorate. On occasions, it was a relief that the majority of voters have given up following parliamentary proceedings. More generally, though, there is a danger that the “Parliament v. People” narrative perpetrated by the Government will be allowed to take hold. The motion proposing a ridiculous timetable for scrutinising the Withdrawal Agreement Bill was not defeated by MPs acting against the national interest, as suggested by the Prime Minister, but by those who recognised their duties as members of a responsible legislative body — which might conclude in the same vein, after consideration and despite its approval at Second Reading, that the proposed deal was not in the best interests of MPs’ constituents.
DAVID BADDIEL, interviewed in The Guardian this week about his new play, God’s Dice, remarked of his friend Frank Skinner: “Before I met Frank, I’d never met a very, very intelligent person who deeply believed in God, and that was really challenging to me as an atheist.” Mr Baddiel is a Cambridge graduate; so we are not sure what his definition of intelligence might be. But we are more interested in the “met” element in his observation. The annual Statistics for Mission, released last week, suggests that the chances of meeting any sort of Christian have fallen over the past decade, given that, in general, other denominations have followed the same downward trend as the Anglicans. (Mr Skinner’s denomination, Roman Catholicism, has temporarily bucked the trend, thanks largely to immigration.) It has to be asked, however, whether the statisticians are measuring the right things. The one place where Mr Baddiel, a secular Jew, was unlikely to encounter believers of any description was in church or chapel. Thus church attendance figures can reflect only one end-point of mission, an increasingly disputed one. The Revd Dr Jason Roach, quoted on our news pages, suggests a more pertinent measure: “How many non-Christians each week are in relationships with members of the Church where Jesus is discussed?” This information can never rise above the anecdotal, but has the merit of recording where the true challenge of mission occurs, both for non-Christians such as Mr Baddiel, and for Christians who need to be ready to display their faith intelligently.