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Press: Excuses for Sentamu’s House of Lords ‘snub’

23 October 2020


NICHOLAS HELLEN, at The Sunday Times, noticed that Dr Sentamu had not been awarded a life peerage on his retirement in July. “Downing Street has delivered an extraordinary snub to Britain’s first black archbishop by failing to award him an automatic life peerage.
“As Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, 71, should have been given a life peerage to enable him to continue sitting in the House of Lords in a personal capacity after his retirement on June 7.”
What made the story was the extraordinarily weak defence put forward by government spokesdroids: “Last night the government sought to excuse the snub, blaming it on the need to slim down the Upper House. It said: ‘The size of the House of Lords needs addressing. But given retirements and other departures, some new members are needed to ensure that the Lords has the appropriate expertise and it continues to fulfil its role in scrutinising and revising legislation.’”

Hellen points out that Boris Johnson’s list of 36 life peers in July included the former Brexit Party MEP Claire Fox, “who, when she was a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, refused to condemn the IRA’s planting of the Warrington bomb. He also found room for his brother Jo Johnson, a former MP. There were no new peers from the black community.”

The reaction was generally — and quite rightly — outraged. By Sunday evening, the spin had reversed and the ferret was after an entirely different rabbit. According to the Mail’s coverage: “Britain’s first black archbishop was held back from being given a life peerage because officials wanted to make sure he was not criticised in an abuse inquiry.

“Former Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu was originally snubbed in a list of 36 new members this summer. A Government source said the honour for the respected clergyman was delayed by the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC), which vets nominations.

“The source said: ‘There was never any suggestion that the archbishop was involved in the scandal or in covering it up. But he was a senior figure in the Church which was subject to an ongoing process. That is why there has been a delay.’”

This is not factually true. Various survivors have repeatedly claimed that he was involved in covering up scandals, and these claims were repeated on Twitter in the aftermath of this story. All these claims seem to have been officially rejected. The question, I suppose, is whether the stories of sexual abuse within the C of E are now considered as predictable as the hierarch’s objections to Brexit, and so as little newsworthy.


BUT the nature of news itself is shifting with increasing speed. The difference between the paper papers and the online ones is growing significant. On Monday morning, the Daily Mail splashed with the letter from the five Archbishops condemning the Internal Market Bill.

The Mail Online had it far less prominently, which in itself was misleading if you needed to judge its weight as a political story. When you stick something all over the front page, far more people in the supermarket will notice it, whether or not they buy the paper.

The letter had, in fact, gone to The Financial Times — an interesting choice of the new paper of record. But the FT does not display its letters nearly as prominently online as it does in the paper. You have to make three unsignposted clicks to reach them, and, when I did, the letter came below two others thought more urgent or important. The lead, in fact, was “Saudi ban on Turkish textiles hits supply chains”.

This could be justified. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech in the House of Lords on the subject was short, eloquent, and forceful. I suspect that he wrote it himself. But it won’t change anything, and, style apart, it was hardly surprising that his would be the view of the Anglican Churches of these islands.


ACROSS the Atlantic, the change in news has gone a whole lot further. The American writer and programmer Antonio García Martínez, who wrote an insightful and irritating memoir of his time at Facebook, Chaos Monkeys, has no time for the pretensions of the kind of high-minded journalism that Facebook has done so much to destroy.

In a recent essay he wrote: “Most New York Times writers, the august authors of ‘the first draft of history’, would do more for their hallowed institution’s finances if they dedicated themselves to writing chocolate-chip-cookie recipes and crossword puzzles. In fact, that’s exactly what’s going on: fully a third of the paper’s digital subscriptions comes from their Cooking and Crossword apps.”

This is in line with my theory that the only thing anyone ever really cares about in a newspaper is the bit that they have written themselves. So, only journalists care about bylines, only leader-writers care about the leaders, only advertisers care about advertisements — and only readers care about the crosswords.

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