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Leadership race shows why diversity matters

29 July 2022

The Conservatives’ move away from ‘pale and stale’ white leaders is an example the C of E should follow, argues Brunel James

THE contest to become the next leader of the Conservative Party suggests that the fall of Boris Johnson has profoundly affected the nation’s idea of what a good leader looks like.

I would argue that Mr Johnson has provided such an exaggerated stereotype of the worst kind of entitled male leadership that, as a consequence, no white male candidate has been able to make it into the last four of the process to replace him.

Mr Johnson carried the toxic behaviours of his “Bullingdon Club” days into high office, and now the Conservative Party has collectively decided to shift its leadership model to reflect more closely a society that does genuinely value fairness and diversity.

The initial field of eight contenders in the Tory leadership ballot was noticeably diverse, with only two white men in contention: Jeremy Hunt and Tom Tugendhat. It seems, however, that the prospect of more white male leadership did not appeal to Conservative MPs: Mr Hunt was the first to be eliminated, with less than 20 votes, and Mr Tugendhat crashed out in the third round with less than 40.

The lesson here is clear, I would suggest: Tory MPs, anxious about facing the country in a General Election after the horrors of the Johnson years, wish to do so with “anything but” a “pale and stale” white man as their leader.

THIS matters to the Church of England. Historically, our most senior appointments have tended to track the prevailing secular leadership trend.

When the Conservatives decided, in 1990, that they needed a man from a humble background who had risen by his own merits to become PM, they promoted John Major, who had served a short term as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Likewise, in 1991, the C of E passed over the experienced Old Etonian, John Habgood, for nomination as Archbishop of Canterbury, instead putting forward George Carey, who had not long been Bishop of Bath & Wells, but who had “man of the people” credentials.

By 2005, the Tories decided it was “Okay to be posh again,” and elected the Old Etonian, David Cameron, as leader. When Mr Cameron become Prime Minister in 2010, the C of E again followed suit, appointing an Old Etonian but “relatable” Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013.

So now, I would argue, the wheel has turned again: the trend going forward will be towards women and candidates of Global Majority Heritage. This is one of the things that I campaign for, as a member of the Windrush Group, and I believe that this is also what “the great British public” want. Tory MPs are simply putting forward the type of leader best placed to win the confidence of the nation after the scandals of the Johnson years.

There are already some signs that the Church of England has recognised the way in which things seem to be heading. The General Synod has decided to co-opt additional members with Global Majority Heritage, so that it can more fully represent the diverse membership of the Church of England (News, 26 November 2021). The Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) that will appoint the next Archbishop of Canterbury will have five members from the wider Anglican Communion, in order to reflect the post’s global reach (News, 15 July).

LAMENTABLY, the slowness of the Church of England to embrace the diversity of the population it serves and begin to generate a diverse leadership cohort at all levels means that our “pipeline” of candidates for high office is still overly dominated by white faces.

The ongoing Conservative leadership contest has revealed a Tory party that is actually well placed to discard a leadership cohort dominated by privileged white males and bring diverse candidates forward. Such was the breadth of talent available to them, there was no sense that they were having to compromise on underlying ideological choices in order to show a more diverse face for the party in their choice of a new leader.

The break-out candidate, Kemi Badenoch, finished in fourth place on an “anti woke” platform that surprised many outside the party with its vehemence. The contest surely revealed that, whichever Tory faction wished to assert itself, it could find a powerful champion, without turning to the traditional pool of white male leadership candidates.

This is not yet the case for the Church of England. Although we have a good range of senior female diocesan bishops in place, the process has only just begun for those with Global Majority Heritage. The consecration of the Revd Arun Arora as Bishop of Kirkstall, in the diocese of Leeds, on 15 July, is the latest in a steady trickle of appointments to Suffragan Bishoprics which are slowly increasing the diversity of the College of Bishops (News, 27 May). When the tide changes, however, it seems the Church of England is generally racing to catch up, rather than leading the way.

The Revd Brunel James is the Vicar of Cleckheaton, in the diocese of Leeds. He was a member of the Windrush Group on the last General Synod.

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