Beware the bishops Our troubled archbishop has been outmanoeuvred by his clergy
At next week’s General Synod, the plotters-in-chief will be out in force, but this gossiping and manoeuvring is not just a sign of the archbishop’s demise. Throughout his time in office, Rowan Williams has been isolated and undermined — not by the media, but by his own clergy.
The case for him stepping down early was made privately by the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, to a few friends at last summer’s York Synod.This almost scandalous suggestion quickly spread across the bars on the university campus where the Church holds its parliament each year, and only after it had been much discussed did word reach the archbishop himself. That he was the last to know of his own putative resignation is pretty telling.
But then, throughout his time at the top, Williams has always been the last to know what’s going on. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI made a historic offer to disillusioned Anglicans. Dr Williams only learned of the provocative move a fortnight before it was announced by the Vatican, yet the Pope had begun drawing up plans years earlier.
The politicking around this move was so chaotic and the characters involved so indiscreet that they would not have been out of place in a Shakespearean farce. When three of the bishops pivotal to implementing the Pope’s deal made what they had hoped was a secret visit to Rome, news of their trip was widely known before they had even returned home. (In their defence, their journey was made exceptionally long because the Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s fear of flying meant they had to take the train across Europe.) As undercover missions go, it was more Dad’s Army than SAS. It looks even more ridiculous in the light of a letter written by the bishop in which he describes the talks as feeling ‘a little bit like Elizabethan espionage’.
Other, more senior bishops had been more successful at keeping mum about the Pope’s plans. I confronted one of them at the York Synod in 2008. He looked stunned and urged me to go somewhere we could talk out of earshot. He confirmed that Anglican bishops were indeed preparing the ground for an exodus of traditionalist churchgoers. We began to make our way back to the main hall, still chatting sotto voce, but ran almost immediately into Dr Williams. The archbishop paused suspiciously. We looked shifty. Then he walked on, knowing there was a plot afoot, but finding it easier to turn a blind eye.
For particularly sensitive discussions at the Synod, rebel bishops would book a dining room in a nearby hotel. I know this to be the case because, unfortunately for them, I happened one year to be staying in this same hotel. Conservative bishops were expressing their dismay at the archbishop’s failure to restrain liberals within the Anglican Communion.
Apart from when a journalist happens to be, um, eavesdropping, discussions behind closed doors normally remain that way — unless of course it suits a faction’s tactics to advance an agenda through the media. The last people to know tend to be the archbishop’s press office, which goes some way to explaining why he is often blindsided by events and blames the media.
In 2010 Dr Williams was warned by his staff that I planned to run a story revealing that Jeffrey John, the gay dean of St Albans, was a frontrunner to become the Bishop of Southwark. Few leaks have angered him more. Having been forced to prevent his old friend from becoming a bishop once before, he no doubt suspected the information had been passed to me by liberals who hoped the publicity would make it harder for him to block Dr John’s promotion again. If this had been the intention, it had the opposite effect. Members of the Crown Nominations Commission entered the room to find the archbishop sitting in ‘silent anger’, furious that the oath of confidentiality they swear before each meeting had been broken. While the Southwark members of the commission were keen for Dr John to be chosen, Dr Williams now appeared to be looking for reasons to block the appointment. More bizarrely, at a critical point in the meeting, John Sentamu and three other members left to go to the lavatories at the same time and, when they returned, the voting patterns are understood to have changed.
Tensions are bound to boil over again later this year when the Church publishes its report on clergy in civil partnerships and another on its approach to same-sex relationships. It would be more than understandable if Rowan Williams felt like leaving the fray before the fight begins once more.
Some have called for an end to a ‘bonus culture’ in banks and big firms. But bonus culture has been around a long time… — Around the year ad 70, Roman legionnaires received bonuses of 25 denarii to supplement their salaries of 225 denarii. — Bonuses were recorded by 14th-century Florentine banks, with one employee of the Peruzzi Company receiving 40 lire to supplement a salary of five times that sum. — In 1965 India passed the Payment of Bonus Act, which entitled employees to a bonus of 8.33 per cent of their salary, and at least 100 rupees, providing they worked for more than 30 days in a year.
Nicolas Sarkozy says ‘Britain has no industry any more’. How balanced is our economy compared with those of other rich nations? % contributions to Gross Value Added, 2010 Manufacturing Services 11 France 80 21 Germany 71 17 Italy 73 18 Japan 73 12 UK 77 13 US 79 Source: US Census Bureau
The number of university applications has fallen by 7.4 per cent, year on year, after the increase in tuition fees. Most affected subjects Non-European languages -22% Technologies -18% Sciences with social sciences/arts -18%
Least affected subjects Subjects allied to medicine +2.1% Physical sciences -0.6% Engineering -1.3% Veterinary science -2.4% Maths and computer science -2.8%
Blood on the tracks
Network Rail pleaded guilty to safety breaches over the deaths of two girls at a level crossing in Essex in 2005, three days after another girl was killed on the same stretch of line. How did people come to grief on the railways in 2010/11? Suicide 208 Trespass 27 Slipping/running into train at station 7 Killed at level crossing 4 Rail workers killed on line 1 Assault 1 Train accidents 0 Source: Office of the Rail Regulator
the spectator | 4 february 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk Hugo Rifkind
The City is used to ignoring MPs, because they don’t matter. Or at least they didn’t
It’s not strange that bankers have so much more money than anybody else. It’s like the way that women who work in sweet shops are always fat. Not a profound point, I’ll grant you, but it’s striking how rarely you see it made. In other industries, this sort of thing is pretty much a given. If you went around to Christian Louboutin’s house, you wouldn’t be surprised if Mrs Louboutin had an unusually vast number of shoes, would you?
Sure, there might not be a Mrs Louboutin; not a punt I’d like to make with a French shoe designer, but you get the point. People who work in theatre get a lot of theatre tickets, and people who work in banks get a lot of cash. They’re swimming in the stuff. It all goes through them.
As to whether it’s fair, well, that’s a different issue. And a simple one, too, because it glaringly isn’t fair at all. But ‘fairness’ — although politicians all drone on about in their own special way (Miliband as a whine, Clegg as a plea, Cameron as though it’s something he’s just found on his shoe) — isn’t really why politicians are so keen to have a crack at bankers. Because it’s not about fairness. It’s about power.
This isn’t profound either, but hell, that’s not what I’m for. You know that bit in Bonfire Of The Vanities, when you first realise that Sherman McCoy considers himself to be one of the Masters Of The Universe? That annoyed you, right? No? Well, you probably work in banking, then. It annoyed everybody else. It certainly annoyed politicians. They can stand being paid less than bankers, but they can’t stand being less important than them.
I get where they are coming from. We didn’t invent democracy and have the French Revolution (I’m obviously using the term ‘we’ quite loosely here) just so we could kowtow to that bunch of jumped-up bookmakers, did we? As with gold-plated civil service pensions, the vast pay-packets are supposed to be what they get as compensation for everything else in their lives being rubbish. And yet there they are, basi-
cally running the show. As less than flies to wanton boys, are MPs to the City. It simply ignores them, because they just don’t matter very much.
Or rather, they didn’t. But I wonder if they’re starting to. I wonder, in fact, if we’ll look back to now as the time of a great British political power-grab. Fighting the press, through Leveson. Fighting the judiciary,
I wonder if we’ll look back to now as the time of a great British political power-grab through the attack on Human Rights. Fighting educational authorities through academies and free schools, and that vast NHS bureaucracy through fragmentation. And now the banks. Some of these are projects of the left, some of the right, but they all end up dragging power to the same small spot of SW1. There’s a muscularity to it, and a confidence, and a vigour, and I suppose I should probably approve. Not sure I do, though.
Ihad that nice James Delingpole’s new book land on my desk the other day. Watermelons: How Enviromentalists are Killing The Planet, Destroying The Economy and Stealing Your Children’s Future. I’ll definitely read it. I love James’s books, but I preferred them back when they were officially fiction.
‘Let’s remake Groundhog Day exactly the same.’
the spectator | 4 february 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk
In the wider world (by which I mean on Twitter, and occasionally in pubs) I have actually spent a decent amount of time defending the right of m’colleague Mr Delingpole to espouse the nonsense he does about environmentalism, and the right of the Spectator to publish it. The usual objection states that giving prominence to voices such as his, or to loonies such as Ian Plimer or Nils-Axel Mörner, many say, gives a false impression. It suggests that this is a debate with two nuanced, competing sides. As opposed to the real picture, which is of one overwhelmingly right side, pecked at for kicks by a handful of cranks.
I daresay it does, but I don’t think that’s the Spectator’s problem. People who read this splendid newspaper and literally nothing else may have impeccable taste, but there surely cannot be very many of them. Plus, and more importantly, illiberal censorship doesn’t stop being censorship just because you’re censoring the dangerously daft.
Critics are on safer ground, I think, when they ask why cranks of all sorts get on television. I enjoy seeing Laurie Penny, say, on my screen as much as anybody, but her growing ubiquity does somewhat give the erroneous impression that there are more than eight people alive who don’t think she’s utterly wrong about absolutely everything. She’s an amusing bogeyman, I know, but if I was on the left I’d feel downright smeared.
This is a problem particularly pronounced with science. I read a blog by the Guardian’s Martin Robbins the other day, in which he bemoaned the way that scientists never end up on BBC discussion panels. He’s right that this is bad, but I think he may have had the wrong target. I doubt it’s that science folk never get invited on Question Time. I suspect it’s more that they don’t want to do it, because they know they’ll get one question on science. After that, they’ll be out on a limb, bullshitting about Syria or the euro like everybody else. They simply don’t have the bottle. Those boffins need to man up.
Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.