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Press: Labour MP tells of laughs over tea with Welby

04 August 2023

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THE most charming story of the week came from the Politico newsletter, which had interviewed Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury, who turns out to be a devout Christian and even a descendant of Archbishop Tait. The reporter appears to have modelled her approach on the fictional character Philomena Cunk: “The building and world heritage site, founded in 597, is the turf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, a.k.a. the head of the Anglican Church. . . The mind-bending structure — a mix of gothic spikes, patches of Norman detailing and statuettes — is not a million miles from the Palace of Westminster. . . The whole vibe of the place is super old.”

Still, she got some wonderful quotes.

“Duffield has a close relationship with the current archbishop, Justin Welby. She points up at the pulpit where the head of the church delivers his sermons, before gesturing to the adjacent area where she gets to sit for the services. The spot is so front row that when the sermons end and Welby clambers down, he’ll whisper an invitation for drinks. ‘I really like him, such a lot,’ Duffield says. ‘He’s much funnier and more fun than you would realize in real life. And it’s so great when he puts people at their ease.’

“The pair often catch up over tea in the cathedral gardens or in the Pugin room in Parliament. ‘If I’ve ever really got anything playing on my mind I know where he is,’ she says. ‘He’s just a really sweet friend, I guess. He’s just sort of there.’”

I’ve never seen the Archbishop in an unofficial capacity; but, even when he is merely off the record, rather than off the job, he has an extraordinary gift for highlighting whatever is ridiculous or merely enjoyable in the world around him, when there’s any such thing to be found. No wonder he has needed treatment for depression.


THE people from St Edmundsbury & Ipswich diocese’s outsourced publicity firm got in touch, very agitated that I had written that no response from them had reached me last week (Press, 28 July). They had sent one immediately, they said. Send it again, I said. Again, nothing got through. It appears that nothing they sent to my Gmail account arrives. What’s sent to my private account came through, but marked as “Junk”. Perhaps they have got on to some blacklist.

In any case, the response of the diocese was to say that it “recognises that racism sadly exists in our society. . . Education has an important role to play in combating prejudice. . . We are proud of the way children at our schools champion equality and diversity.”

None of this addresses any of the criticism directed at the diocese in this story. None of it acknowledges what, in fact, the story was — not that the diocese is opposed to racism and in favour of diversity (hold page 94), but that highly tendentious material was being used in its primary schools.

Fluff like this is not going to fool the journalist, who remains either undeceived or entirely indifferent to the meaning of the words that they type (a surprisingly common affliction). But it might just fool the diocese into thinking that it had addressed the problem. In a week when both Archbishops figure in The Mail on Sunday’s list of 100 woke monsters running or ruining the country, it is unwise of an organisation that relies on voluntary donations to believe its own propaganda.


A BETTER approach to a similar problem was taken by the Archbishop of York, who was given space in The Sunday Telegraph to point out that he had never for a moment suggested that the Church should stop referring to God as “Our Father” (Press, 14 July). You had to read the Telegraph’s original story quite carefully to see that this was true (The Guardian was more honest). The lead then was that “Calling God ‘our Father’ is ‘problematic’, the Archbishop of York has said.” The careless reader would naturally suppose that this was a problem that the Church proposed to solve.

As often happens, the rent-a-quotes consulted further down the story were happy to play along, although they, too, must have known that he hadn’t suggested any such thing. Getting their thoughts on the gender of God into print was too much of a temptation, even when they knew that this wasn’t what he had been talking about.

I don’t know what pressure the Archbishop’s people applied to the Telegraph, but, in any case, it gave him space for what was more or less a sermon, and rather a good one at that. It’s been a long time since I have seen one of those given such prominence, and it wasn’t even delivered on a royal occasion.

The only odd part was the Archbishop’s announcement that he intends to make it a large part of his ministry to teach people in the north the Lord’s Prayer in their mother tongue. A proper hack would now be collecting outraged quotes about the Church’s calling for prayer in Urdu. If English was good enough for St Paul. . .

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