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Press: You want a vote-winner? Blame the C of E

06 October 2023


ONE of the less obvious rules of British journalism is that the worse The Daily Telegraph becomes as a newspaper, the more valuable it becomes as a source of information. It is precisely the lack of balance and realism which makes it so informative. When the lunatics are running the asylum, only the Telegraph will tell you what they’re smoking.

The first time I noticed this was in the summer of 2002, when innocent people believed that the British and Americans were deciding whether to invade Iraq, and doing so on the basis of evidence. Almost all the papers took this line: that there was a decision to be made, and the decision-makers were considering what to do. The Telegraph alone in the British press took for granted that an invasion was the only moral and possible course of action, and the only decisions to be made were about how, not why or whether. And this was, of course, how the people in charge saw the problem. To take seriously the implications of the Telegraph’s line was to understand what no other paper could tell you: that the intelligence was being fixed around the decision already made.

The paper, today, is still in lockstep with Conservative Party policy.

There is only one snag, as the sketch-writer of The Critic, Robert Hutton, observed: in conference week, the party has united around a single proposition: “That 13 years of Conservative government has been a disaster for Britain.” The only arguments are about whom to blame for this.

WHY not blame the Church of England, if history is to repeat itself as farce?

And so we come to the big story in Saturday’s Telegraph: “The Archbishop of Canterbury has been rebuffed in his attempts to meet Suella Braverman to raise concerns about her rhetoric on immigration. . . The Most Rev Justin Welby has ‘reached out’ to the Home Secretary to discuss the Government’s policy on asylum seekers, but Mrs Braverman has so far failed to agree to any discussions in an apparent snub. . . The row threatens to plunge the Tories into a war of words with the Church. . .”

What more could Ms Braverman want? To get the Church to condemn her policy on refugees is a glorious reminder to the Telegraph’s readers that their enemies are hers, too. Soon, this will be a rite of passage for anyone seeking the Telegraph’s endorsement, and the paper that brought us Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith will be ranking candidates by how much the bishops are supposed to hate them.

I am struck, though, by the way in which it is the most Establishment archbishops whom the Conservatives hate. Archbishop Runcie, a pig-breeding officer in the Scots Guards with an MC, was attacked in terms suggesting that he was Jeremy Corbyn (although it’s true that he went to a less grand school than the Corbyn brothers). And now, Archbishop Welby, the son of Churchill’s private secretary, is the threat to Western civilisation. No one ever bothered to attack Lord Williams in such terms.

THERE were a couple of foreign stories in Tuesday’s papers, about the Roman Catholic Church and sex. Among other things, they show how completely the papers now take for granted that only crazed bigots could object to gay relationships.

The Times, online at least, told its readers that Amazon, in France, might now have to charge extra for delivering books, before getting round to the news that the Pope had suggested that parish clergy just get on and bless gay relationships. It had none of the background — in particular, the fact that this is a kick in the teeth for his conservative opponents: five Cardinals who had attempted to force him to agree with them. This announcement means that he has told his opposition to put up or shut up.

The Guardian had a longer story, but it was all from Associated Press (AP): “Francis’ response to the cardinals, however, marks a reversal from the Vatican’s current official position. In an explanatory note in 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [said that the Church could not bless gay unions] because ‘God cannot bless sin’.”

Two things seem to me important about the story. The first is that it places, in practice, gay couples on a par with those straight ones who have married again after divorce. I hadn’t noticed, until the AP story mentioned it, that it is now official teaching that remarried couples are not to be barred from holy communion. In both cases, Pope Francis’s line is that the sexual element might still be sinful, but it’s not the most important thing about the relationship. This is very Anglican, and also Anglican in its shuffling the burden of decision down to the parish level. As in the Anglican case, I worry that this will lead to decades of bitter wrangling.

Meanwhile, the Mail Online had “Gay orgy sex drug overdose clergyman investigated by Polish police ‘plied friend with date-rape pills according to audio of panicking male prostitute’s 999 call’.” Some things about the British press will never change.

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