Friday, June 10, 2011

Chesterton Beasts

As on so many things, I agree with David Cameron. The Archbishop of Canterbury has every right to express his opinions on topical matters of the day. If the ABC has no right to a pulpit, who does? Equally, however, it is disappointing that someone widely regarded as the most cerebral occupant of Lambeth Palace for many years should have written such an intellectually childish polemic. Take this, just for a start:

Incidentally, this casts some light on the bafflement and indignation that the present government is facing over its proposals for reform in health and education. With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted. At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context.

If Rowan Williams is perplexed by the meaning of a representative democracy, in which he has lived all his life, then clearly reports of his intellect have been grotesquely over-stated. 11 million people voted for the Conservatives, 17 million voted for the constituent parties of the Coalition. This is a new and bewildering definition of no-one.

But, for example, the comprehensive reworking of the Education Act 1944 that is now going forward might well be regarded as a proper matter for open probing in the context of election debates.

Education is a perfectly imbecilic example to use here. The extension of academies and free schools were trailed by the Tories years before the last election and featured prominently in their manifesto. For which 11 million people voted. But even beyond that, has Dr Williams really not noticed that Butler’s Education Act was gutted by Tony Crosland in 1965?

As others have noticed, the clarion call descends rather into a neo-post-modern whimper. Alex’s prize for parsing the meaning of this will, I suspect, go unclaimed:

A democracy going beyond populism or majoritarianism but also beyond a Balkanised focus on the local that fixed in stone a variety of postcode lotteries; a democracy capable of real argument about shared needs and hopes and real generosity: any takers?

But there is a final point to be made. It is entirely right and proper for the ABC to advertise his political views. But the ABC speaks for the Church of England. It would be much less right and proper, therefore, were he to advertise his party political views. And by running Labour party talking points, in the in-house magazine of the Labour party Dr Williams, to say the least, runs the risk of being misinterpreted.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"11 million people voted for the Conservatives, 17 million voted for the constituent parties of the Coalition. This is a new and bewildering definition of no-one."

To be fair to the archbish., he was talking about policies rather than parties. So the fact that lots of people voted for the Conservatives and Lib Dems doesn't mean anything if they then introduce lots of new policies that weren't in their manifestoes. (Not that I necessarily think they're doing this, though; just that voting figures alone aren't enough to refute his argument.)

10:21 am  
Blogger Tim J said...

Well you know, ish. The principle of representative democracy should hardly be a surprise to ABC. The notion that Govts should only be able to introduce manifesto policies is an eccentric one to say the least.

10:46 pm  

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