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Leader comment: The electorate vote for candidates, not party leaders

21 June 2024

DESPITE the strenuous efforts of the political parties, very few of our readers are going to be voting for Rishi Sunak, Sir Keir Starmer, Ed Davey, Nigel Farage, or Carla Denyer. This is not because of what the party leaders have written — or not written — about the UK’s global responsibility in these pages. It is because the majority of our readers live outside Richmond, Holborn & St Pancras, Kingston & Surbiton, Clacton-on-Sea, and Bristol Central. This is not the first General Election dominated by the personal characters of the party leaders, but it is a tendency that should be resisted. If the UK succumbs to presidential-style campaigning, when all that matters is the charisma of the would-be Prime Minister, the danger is that the parties will nominate candidates for parliamentary seats based on little beyond their party loyalty.

One of the sadnesses of an election is the loss of honest, reputable public servants who, were it not for the whipping system in the Commons, might be recognised as possessing an integrity and an attraction beyond their party label. As it is, more voters than the polls suggest are likely to be swayed by the personal attributes of the candidates for individual constituencies, and this is surely to the benefit of this country’s democracy. The organisation of hustings is one of the most valuable contributions that churches can make at this time.


THE group commissioned to carry out a review of the transparency of the House of Bishops are clearly no strangers of absurdist theatre. When faced with the discrepancy between the impression of the Bishops as a secretive cabal and the fact that they operate under the Standing Orders of the General Synod that state: “The public shall be admitted to all sittings of the House”, the group recommended that the standing orders be formally disavowed. That does, of course, make things technically transparent: it is now transparent that the House of Bishops meetings are secret.

As for the decision to publish the minutes of the meetings, we have a grudging admiration for people who resist the relentless 24-hour news cycle. None the less, the decision not to publish anything until those minutes have been agreed at the next meeting of the House, two or three months later, is taking things a bit far, especially if those decisions have been acted on in the intervening months. Thus any decisions taken at the next meeting on 15 July — and, more importantly for open government, the reason for those decisions — will come to light no sooner than the end of October. We sympathise with the need for confidential conversations and the avoidance of “performative” contributions, but the House of Bishops needs to ask itself whether it is a mutual support group or a governing body. If the latter, we would suggest that transparency delayed is transparency denied.

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