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Press: Cottrell causes commotion over ‘English’

13 August 2021


I SUSPECT that the Telegraph/Spectator axis has the Bishops rattled. How else to explain the Archbishop of York’s piece in The Daily Telegraph in praise, apparently, of regional devolution. But, as he must have known would happen, the only bit that was taken up was the appeal to an English sense of resentment against London and the “metropolitan elite”. The clergy of the Established Church are, of course, quite different, belonging as they do to the provincial elites — at least, until they reach the House of Lords.

“Many English people feel left behind by metropolitan elites in London and the South East, and by devolved governments and strengthened regional identities in Scotland and Wales. Their heartfelt cry to be heard is often disregarded, wilfully misunderstood or patronised as backwardly xenophobic.

“But what if this is about the loss of identity? No longer British, temperamentally never really European, and definitely outside the wealth and opportunities of London, English people want to know what has happened to their country.”

This became headlines in the Telegraph itself: “Archbishop of York attacks the ‘patronising’ London elite”, and, within hours, in the Mail Online: “Archbishop of York criticises London ‘metropolitan elite’ for patronising people proud to be English.”

The Telegraph had a leader that teetered on the verge of self-parody before toppling in at the last sentence: “No one would dare tell almost any other nation on Earth that they should be ashamed of their homeland, yet the metropolitan elite has decided that Englishness is controversial, better off suppressed. This prejudice has to be challenged as well. The English are, as the Archbishop writes, ‘courageous and compassionate’, even if they are sometimes too modest to admit it.”

It was left to Trevor Phillips, in The Times, to remove the Archbishop’s trousers.

“Cottrell is right to make a distinction between being British and being English; but three of the institutions whose virtues he commends — the monarchy, the BBC World Service and the NHS — are quintessentially British. The latter two were created by a Scotsman (Reith) and a Welshman (Bevan); and for most of the past thousand years, the monarchy has been as much French Norman, Welsh, Scottish and German as English.

“Disappointingly, the prelate has little to say about the attitudes of the only major national institution that uniquely owes its identity to England: his own Church.

“Back in 2016, while two out of three of the Anglican faithful told researchers that they voted to leave, anyone who asked struggled to find a handful of bishops who would admit to supporting Brexit. Welby condemned the racism and xenophobia he saw as a consequence of the referendum, opining that the ‘signal has been set at danger for cohesion’. The opaque language does not disguise the implication that had the vote gone in the other direction, the bishops might have had fewer concerns about social divisions.”

As a fully paid-up Remainiac I don’t enjoy the scoring of that point, but it is a very fair one.

There was also a brief, chilling letter to The Guardian: “The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, draws to our attention the monarchy, the church and the NHS — the antique, the struggling and the half-privatised. He fails to mention what for many is now the most important: the food bank. Staffed by sensitive volunteers, this institution symbolises a loss of hope of ever achieving a fair society.”

Even Professor Ian Bradley, of the University of St Andrews, weighed in with a letter to The Times: “I can’t see Stephen Cottrell’s claim that courage and compassion are specially English characteristics going down well in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. If there is a distinctive English quality it is surely tolerance and indeed a certain indifference, as shown not least in the religious sphere, where it contrasts with the more fiery and committed faith of the Celtic peoples that has sometimes spilled over into fanaticism.”

The last sentence reads oddly to me, as I write just down the road from the Cromwell family’s stables. But I suppose that, from a Scottish perspective, the English Calvinists were all limp-wristed liberals.


AN INTERESTING story from Florida, where the Washington Post found the pastor of a largely Black congregation agitating for his congregation to get vaccinated. This came after six of his congregation — one per cent; for this is a large church — had died of the virus. Four were healthy and under 35; none was vaccinated.

Florida is in the grip of a bad surge — cases up 30 per cent in a week — made worse by the libertarian rhetoric of the Republican governor. So Bishop George Davis organised vaccination drives after each of Sunday’s three services, and these drew about 1000 people. They trusted a pastor far more than the state authorities. The twist came when Bishop Davis listed the other people whom his congregation trust: “Your pastors, your barbers, your friends — those folks that you know have been there with you through some real tough times.”

So, is the hairdresser a more influential figure in the community than the parish priest? Who has a larger captive audience over the week?

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