Monday, December 29, 2008

Bishops Should Avoid Party Politics

The attack on the government by five bishops yesterday will have brought a smile to the face of many a Conservative, who remembers their attacks on the Thatcher government of the 1980s. But if we are going to be consistent, we should condemn the bishops in the very same manner that we condemned their forerunners in the 1980s. It's all very well to criticise policies which lead people, in their opinion, to be more likely to sin, but yesterday's attacks by the various bishops entered the realm of party politics. That is not what they are there to do. The bishops are intelligent enough to make the same points without resorting to direct party political gibes.

End of sermon.


Anonymous said...

Actually Iain, I have to say that the Bishops in this case did what they should. Namely, question the "morality" of the actions of the state.

The intervention in the '80s highlighted real damage to communities in cities, but they laid the blame in the wrong place. It wasn't unemployment that had ripped the heart out of cities, it was the socialist housing projects of the 50s and 60s - rammed through by politicians of both left and right - which did that.

It is a pity the CoE has spent the last 60 years ducking every "moral" question they have faced, retreating ever further towards forgiving sin as well as sinner.

At least now with Sentamu and others, they have a core of thinkers who see the role of the established church to do just that and act as a sea anchor to the political will, (whim?), of the day?

Mr Mr said...

Absolute tosh Iain. The Bishops are commenting on society and it so happens that the government has a large influence on society. Nothing to do with party politics.

strapworld said...

Sorry iain, you are wrong. When Jesus entered the temple and threw over the tables of the money men he was making a political statement.

In the good old days, when priests and Bishops etc believed in the virgin birth, believed in a life after death. In fact believed in the creed. They often got involved with politics. There was that canon who was heavily involved with CND alongwith Bruce Kent who was a Roman catholic Priest. Soper was often seen at speakers corner giving his views on the issues of the day.

It is right and proper that politicians should be criticised or praised by the Church. The Church, though, have been far more concerned with navel gazing, on such issues as Women Priests and Bishops and Homosexual Priests, than doing their duty towards their congregations on issues of the day.

They are right to comment.

Unsworth said...

Why bash the bishops? They're entitled to express their views exactly as everyone else. Surely you can't really believe they somehow have enormous political influence? For that you should be looking elsewhere - like the mosques, for example.

If they call it as they see it, what's your complaint? If they think NuLab is evil, so what? It's a view, thats' all.

Alex said...

Very wrong. Religion or more specifically Christianity is relevant to all aspects of life. If the bishops want to comment on anything they are as entitled to do so as you or me. If they speak on matters on which their expertise is acknowledged, such as morality, then they can expect people to listen.

Iain Dale said...

I thought I had worded this post very clearly, but it appears not. Of course Bishops can comment on anything they like. My point was that it is possible to do this without becoming party political. We didn't like it when they did it to Margaret Thatcher. I can understand Labour not liking it now.

Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr Dale,

With the greatest of respect, you are quite wrong on this.

As the Constitution of the United Kingdom stands (for it does), the Established Church is one of the pillars of government, intrinsic to the legislature, with the obligation to privide moral guidance and to speak out where necessary.

Her Majesty enjoys the same constitutional right to warn her ministers (in private).

You may not approve of bishops in the legislature, but it is part of our 300-year-old settlement, and it has worked. Only in Labour's era of 'equality' is there pressure to treat the Church of England as 'just another religion', when, in fact, it is the foundation of our liberties, and the spiritual 'glue' which binds the nation (did not 70 per cent identify themselves as culturally Christian at the last census?).

These five bishops are doing their job. One does not have to agree with them, but if their sermons are not informed by the real world of politics, they might as well be consigned to Labour's constitutional bonfire. As a Conservative, Mr Dale, you cannot be in favour of that.

Iain Dale said...

[bashes head against wall]

Cranmer wrote: "One does not have to agree with them, but if their sermons are not informed by the real world of politics, they might as well be consigned to Labour's constitutional bonfire."

Of course their sermons should be informed by the real world, but that does not mean to say they should become politically partisan.

Please read what I actually wrote, rather than what you imagine I wrote.

I say again, of course they should comment on current affairs issues as they relate to religion, but they should do avoiding partisan political statements.

Gecko said...

I don't care if Labour (or Conservative) don't like what is said by anyone - free speech means free for anyone.

The Bishops (and I'm no fan of the Church) have a right to say what they think, in this instance they are right to highlight the immoral practices of this corrupt government. None of us should be against anyone voicing their opinion - or we join the same totalitarian path that Labour have set the country on.

"I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write"

Charlotte Corday said...

What about politicians comenting on religious matters? Didn't you have a go at the Pope for his views on homosexuality?

If you think religious leaders should stay out of politics, then surely politicians should stay out of religious matters?

Iain Dale said...

Charlotte, that is risible.

I did criticise his views but I said explicitly that he had every right to express them.

Dear oh dear.

Tyburn Jig said...

"Bishops Should Avoid Party Politics"

No they shouldn't. It is nice to see some CofE bishops with spine enough to tell this odious government what they think of it.

Anonymous said...


Your post says that the Bishops' comments. "entered the realm of party politics" and that we should "condemn them".

My point was that they were not party political at all, but moral, and as such welcome and proper.

Elby the Beserk said...

Wrong, Iain, wrong (and me a card-carrying anti-religionist). We ALL must speak up against what we see as wrong, and what we see as evil. And that SURELY includes Bishops.

This is a PROFOUNDLY immoral government led by a lying thug. They have destroyed the economy, but worse they have broken the fabric of our society, and they have launched a venal assault on our most basic freedoms.

I hope, when the day comes, as surely it will if they get in again, that we have the courage of the likes of Romania.

Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr Dale,

Please do not bash your head against the wall. It is not conducive to rational dialogue and you will do yourself a mischief.

Your complaint is a little muddled, for it is not clear, in a multi-party democracy, how bishops can comment upon anything political (of which you approve) without it being potentially perceived as being party political (of which you disapprove).

If, as you say, their sermons should be informed by the real world, could you please offer an example of a political issue upon which they may speak which will be sure to avoid the 'partisan' tendency you disfavour?

And if they may only comment upon current affairs issues 'as they relate to religion', which issues are off limits?

If, as you say, the bishops have no right to express partisan political opinion, His Grace might as well shut down his blog.

Dick the Prick said...

Why not? Every state org now has fallen into silence and trots out the drivel that only the state can look after people, coppers are political, the armed services have their voices surpressed so let the Bishops say whatever they like. This government are odious.

Lord Elvis of Paisley said...

Sorry Iain, but I think you're confused on this because from where I'm standing the Bishops didn't make a party political statement on the failings of the Labour party. They simply told it like it is.

marksany said...

Thank goodness the Bishops are speaking out - I can't hear the Tories.

Their intervention is not party political, it is single issue and being about morality, falls in their bailiwick.

Andrew Cooper said...

As Rowan Williams argues, it's time to disestablish the the CofE. No doubt that will be one of David Cameron's top priorities after he is elected.

It's this sort of radical thinking that will guarantee the Conservatives a whopping majority after the next election.

If - just to take defence policy - Cameron were to scrap Trident (we could manage with a few nuclear armed cruise missiles) the aircraft carrier replacement programme and Eurofighter/Typhoon, he would instantly win over many of us who are left of centre and leave the awful Scottish Mafia stranded like beached whales. He'd also have some money to spare for decent equipment for the boys and girls in Afghanistan.

Matt Wardman said...

>As Rowan Williams argues, it's time to disestablish the the CofE. No doubt that will be one of David Cameron's top priorities after he is elected

That would be a good thing, just as it would have been a good thing for Maggie and friends to have reformed the Lords. Then we may have had a moderate reform not an attempted revolution and a dogs dinner.

As for the Bishops - no comment until I have read the comment, but they have a good deal more grass roots contact with real people than any government Minister.

Raedwald said...

I can understand the Tories being wary of the intervention of bishops; it was, after all, the Tory Bishop of Rochester's ill-judged attempted political intervention in 1722 that effectively kept the Tories out of office for 48 years.

These days it's easier to look on them as pit canaries, not succumbing to the fumes but rather making a lot of noise when the political atmosphere becomes too foetid. As such they're a useful early warning that some essential moral mark has been overstepped.

God bless their Lordships.

Manfarang said...

"the foundation of our liberties"
The Test and Corporation Acts and the Penal Laws?

Bryan Dunleavy said...

The bishops are actually doing what they are supposed to do, namely discuss morality. Politics is not above questions of morality so why not? You can always agree or disagree with opinions on these issues but you shouldn't, really Ian, be telling them to shut up.

yellowbelly said...


just remind me, why do the bishops sit in the House of Lords?

Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr Manfarang,

Our liberties were developed over centuries - they evolved at a moderate pace, thus avoiding the bloody revolutions of the Continent. Some Acts were right for the time, and have been subsequently repealed.

Let us hope that Mr Cameron does not make disestablishment a matter for the next Conservative government. It would thereby become a partisan exploit, and, by Mr Dale's definition, no bishop ought to be permitted to comment upon it.

Manfarang said...

Avoided bloody revolutions indeed!
English liberties were won at Marston Moor and Naseby.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

o, in your book, its ok for Will Young to appear on QT (which you call (rather recklessly in my opinion, "an oasis of intelligent discussion") but not ok for Bishops of the CofE to pronounce on the issues of the day?

Your main defense of this entertainer is that he "studied politics" at university. In fact, he got a 2:2, which means he was either dim or didn't do the work.

Cof E Bishops generally have a high standard of education, often to PhD level. They bring with them 2000 years of learning and life and death struggle with moral issues.

And it is from a moral point of view that they seek to bring Gordon Brown to account. They find him falling very short of any moral standard that one can apply. If they are not entitled to do this, then who is, in your opinion? Graham Norton? Julian Clary?

You should read what Matthew Parris has to say about the transformative powers of the Gospel in his Times comment column.

This is so shallow, Iain. I am disgusted.

Peter O said...

Au contraire Iain.

Christians have always spoken out against immoral regimes and we always will. We do so in season and out of season. We do so because we have to, because religion is political because it is about every day things and every day life.

We are called to witness to that which is true, and to correct that which is not. Sometimes people in power and authority don't like it, and sometimes they try to silence it, but we will keep on doing it because we must.

His Grace further up the page is correct. All comment, criticism and opinion is political and partisan. To try and ban it is ridiculous.

simon said...

The problem is not what the bishops say. The problem is that people listen to them. A bishop has no more insight into contemporary politics than a hairdresser or an accountant and shouldn't be given a privileged platform. We could start with getting rid of Thought For The Day.

David Lindsay said...

The five Anglican bishops are right, of course. But why is none of three main parties saying the same thing? Why has none of them (historically, it could have been any one, and should really have been all three) always been saying it?

Paul Halsall said...

I think they were criticising the whole notion that the economy has to grown and grow forever, not the Labour Party especially. The Bishop of Hulme did, however, in one comment say that the only politician he ever hears say much sense is Vince Cable.

I have to say I agree with that. If I were not now tribal Labour, and perhaps even then, if Cable were leader of the Lib Dems I would vote for them.

Jimmy said...

"They bring with them 2000 years of learning and life and death struggle with moral issues."

If their pronouncements really are the product of all this erudition then they may as well give up.

Next week, Nicky Gumbel on fiscal policy.

Paddy Briggs said...

Totally agree with you Iain - for further reading:

Unknown said...

Reading what you wrote and the link that you referenced, it is difficult to interpret the bishops' statements as party political. Of course all governments are occupied by political parties and therefore any criticism of government policy could be construed as party political. That would imply a very limited sphere of comment for the bishops.

Cranmer's point, that bishops do have a role within the English constitution is, of course apposite. Unless and until this is changed by disestablishment, they not only have a right but a duty to hold the government to account on the morality of its policies.

The Grim Reaper said...

It's nice to see someone holding the government to account for once. This should be a boom time for Call Me Dave and the Tories - they should be nailing every lie and piece of incompetence that New Labour come out with, and there's plenty of it.

But they're not, because Dave thinks it would make the Tories look nasty. Take the Damian Green arrest, for example. Why didn't Cameron just openly say he thought the Home Secretary was lying about what she knew? He couldn't say so in Parliament, but he could say it pretty much anywhere else.

The Tories have to do better than this!

Anonymous said...

Churches would only be relevant to people if Bishops talk about things that matter to them. The sick spectacle on Boxing Day when mad crowds rushed into shops, egged on by the govt, despite a terrible recession looming, deserved the strongest criticism.

Oscar Miller said...

I hate this government which I believe has dangerous totalitarian instincts - but these bishops haven't got it right at all. They are economically illiterate and I don't buy into the moral huffing and puffing about consumerism. Personally I think these bishops are a pain in the backside. They have a right to speak up of course - I just wish they'd talk more sense.

Andrew Cooper said...

As a non-believing wishy-washy liberal, the more I think about this the more I'm convinced that we mustn't bash our bishops.

Einstein said that problems can't be solved using same kind of thinking which caused them.

I've heard nothing from either the tories or nulabour which suggests that they are interested in long term, robust solutions to our current problems. Our current electoral system forces them to think narrowly about ways to destroy their opponents rather than creatively about fixes which might actually work.

We need the bishops - and many other interest groups - to play an active part in the debate about what we do next. It's wrong to attempt to shut them up just because they aren't elected.

This is far too important to be left to politicians, particularly given the noose of the electoral system hanging around their necks.

Adam Penny said...

I'm not convinced that it was party political in intentions. The CoE's position strikes me as very tightly focussed on the morality of how the government is attempting to negotiate the economic issues that the UK is facing more than any other country.

If this was being done by a Tory government, I'm pretty confident that the church's message would be the same and I'd still agree with them as, quite frankly, the church's opinion is absolutely bang on the money.