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Archbishops of Canterbury, present and past, hope for stability under Rishi Sunak

28 October 2022

New Prime Minister continues cabinet reshuffle


Richi Sunak during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday

Richi Sunak during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday

TWO Archbishops of Canterbury, present and past, have expressed a hope for stability under the new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.

On hearing of Mr Sunak’s appointment, Archbishop Welby posted on Twitter: “At a time of great difficulty and uncertainty for this country, please join me in praying for Rishi Sunak as he takes on the responsibilities of leadership. May he, and all leaders of all parties, work across divides to bring unity and offer stability for those who need it most.”

And on Tuesday afternoon, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams said that people would be “relieved at the sense of some stability after what has been a pretty protracted psychodrama over the last few weeks”.

Mr Sunak is the third Prime Minister since the start of September. Liz Truss, who succeeded Boris Johnson, spent just 50 days in post.

Speaking on Radio 4’s PM programme, Lord Williams listed the “pressures that ordinary people are facing at the moment”, including “the possibility of something like a million people [moving into] poverty over the next few months, schools that are looking at bankruptcy, and the pressures on foodbanks.

“I’d just like to hear something from the new Prime Minister absolutely clear and honest about the severity of the problem and his willingness to confront it. . . that there are hard decisions which won’t necessarily have to press hardest on those least able to bear them.”

Mr Sunak was chosen unopposed as the new leader of the Conservative Party on Monday afternoon, and became the new Prime Minister on Tuesday morning.

In an address outside Downing Street after formally taking office, Mr Sunak said the country faced a “profound economic crisis”. He pledged to put “economic stability and confidence at the heart of this Government’s agenda”.

“I fully appreciate how hard things are,” Mr Sunak said, but concluded his first speech as Prime Minister with a plea for unity and a note of hope: “Together we can achieve incredible things.”

Among those who posted prayers, the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Stephen Lake, prayed for “hope and fairness, for sound govt and healthy opposition”.

Responding to the news of Mr Sunak’s victory in the leadership contest on Monday, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, remarked: “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this political instability has real-life consequences. People, families and children are paying the price with a lack of any targeted support for those hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis.”

Mr Russell urged the new Prime Minister to raise benefits in line with inflation, a policy to which Mr Sunak committed the Government in May when he was Chancellor, a post from which he resigned in July (News, 21 October).

Since Mr Sunak’s resignation, three other men have held the office of Chancellor, most recently Jeremy Hunt, who kept his job when Mr Sunak’s first Cabinet was announced on Tuesday afternoon.

Christian Aid responded to the appointment of Grant Shapps as the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with a warning that he had a “huge responsibility”.

The aid agency’s chief of UK advocacy and policy, Sophie Powell, said on Tuesday afternoon that “after the inept and unpopular attempts by previous BEIS Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg and Liz Truss to bring fracking to the UK, advance oil drilling in the North Sea and possibly water down the UK’s net-zero plans, the new administration should do the opposite. . .

“If the UK wants to retain its claim to be a climate leader on the global stage it needs to ensure it helps those on the front line of the climate crisis who are having to deal with the devastating consequences of emissions burned in rich countries like the UK.”

Another appointment was Andrew Mitchell, who was made Minister for Development, a post which was downgraded when the Department for International Development was amalgamated with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the summer of 2020.

Mr Mitchell was previously the Secretary for State for Development from 2010 to 2012 in the Coalition Government. Last year Christian Aid praised him for his opposition to Mr Sunak’s cuts to international aid (News, 7 May 2021), after he had said in a debate in the House of Commons in July 2021 that “anyone who does not think this is affecting out party’s reputation is living in cloud cuckoo land. . . This is not who we are, this is not what global Britain is.”

At 42, Mr Sunak is the youngest Prime Minister in more than a century. He is the first British Asian, and the first practising Hindu, to hold the highest office in government.

On Monday, the Dean of Manchester, the Ven. Rogers Govender, Tweeted: “Politics aside and despite my desire and prayer for a General Election — first Brown Prime Minister! Quite something. Other Parties and Church can do similar!”

On “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday morning, the Rector of St James’s, Piccadilly, the Revd Lucy Winkett, said that “to acknowledge the UK’s first Hindu Prime Minister is a source of great significance and positivity, whatever the party politics, and to mark with gladness that a person of Global Majority Heritage, practising a faith that is followed by 1.2 billion people around the world, has become the first among equals in the British constitution.

“Given this, the very best thing that citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever their ethnicity, background or religion, can do, to honour this significant moment, is to expect the highest standards of integrity and courage.”

Mr Sunak took his oath as an MP on the Bhagavad Gita. In an interview with The Times in July, he said of his faith: “It gives me strength, it gives me purpose. It’s part of who I am.”

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