The Daily Telegraph splashed this morning on the latest installment of friction between Church and State. It concerns criticism of the Government from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York in a newly published book of essays.
Where the Archbishops are right is that some people – many people – in our society our being “left behind”. Young people struggle to get on the housing ladder. Older people find it a challenge to save up enough for their increasingly long retirements. Governments have a motive in stressing positive news. Politicians of all parties focus on marginal seats and supposed “swing voters”. The Church of England has a proper duty to speak of the well being of those that are struggling.
What policies should be adopted to address these problems is another matter. Our Conservative Home manifesto – Homes Jobs Savings – offered a contribution to some of the challenges that the Church, among others, has made.
Some of the contributions to On Rock or Sand? – the collection of essays edited by John Sentamu – look to statist solutions. This is depressing.
First of all as these have been shown not to work. They have made such problems as unemployment, poor housing and poverty worse.
Secondly, because a bigger state damages civil society – including, ironically the Church of England.
There is also a broader misconception among the statist Anglicans. The Bible tells us:
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
But that doesn’t mean that earning money is wrong. The point is not to love the stuff for its own sake. The Christian idea is that it should be put to good use.
This might be giving it away to help others – the example of the Good Samaritan. Margaret Thatcher’s observation that he needed to have the money in the first place in order to be able to give some of it away was controversial – but is surely irrefutable.
Or a businessmen might decide it was right to use profits to expand his business – to provide more jobs and allow more people the chance to benefit from his product.
That is message of the Parable of the Talents. You shouldn’t just sit staring at your money admiring it.
It is crucial though that these are moral choices for the individual. Confiscating ever more of our money in higher tax erodes our choice. It is also rather questionable if that money is better spent by the state.
Furthermore materialism is naturally far more prone to afflict the rich than the poor. Love of money is easier to avoid when you have plenty of the stuff. Why bother with the vulgar Black Friday stampede to the shops when there is no need for bargain hunting?
In his essay the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, says:
“For me, and I’m sure for many others, a major concern is the extent to which the social compact which the Welfare State represented is now under threat.”
That implies he thinks that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are wrong. Then a few paragraphs on the Archbishop says:
“The context in which we find ourselves is easily, if depressingly, stated. It is one of economic uncertainty, and of worrying failure of all governments to create a climate in which full employment can happen, and where we no longer see the devastating effects of unemployment on the young.”
But unemployment has fallen sharply. Full employment is an explicit aim of this Government and a goal that is closer being reached by the month. Does His Grace not think the welfare reforms may have contributed to this fall in unemployment? If so does he not fear that reversing those reforms would be dangerous?
There is a lazy reference from the Archbishop of York to “deep cuts in public expenditure”. Yet total public expenditure, according to The Guardian, was £671.5bn in 2009/10 and is £731bn in the current financial year.
The problem is not that bishops talk about politics too much but too little.
They are allowed to make general calls for higher tax or spending, or welfare reform to be reversed. But then not pressed on the details.
There is also an essay from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. He refers to the parable of the workers in the vineyard and adds:
“Stability and hope are linked to purpose and productivity. While they may be found in other ways, for most people the major source of stability and hope is found from engagement in a worthwhile occupation. This gives self-respect in enabling people to earn a living and provide for those around them. It broadens the network of acquaintances who may become friends. It gives a place where, for some who wish it, there may be the possibility of advancement and developing knowledge and skills, or of fulfilment for others who choose the predictability of doing something worthwhile day by day.”
So far, so good. I suspect the Archbishop of Canterbury is more supportive of welfare reform that the Archbishop of York. Why not? Naturally among the three million church going Anglicans there will be a range of opinions.
But then the Archbishop of Canterbury adds:
“There are entire towns and regions of our country that are being left ‘outside the vineyard’, as it were, trapped in an apparently inescapableeconomic downward spiral.”
Really? Does he mean some towns and regions have not seen falls in unemployment? Which ones? Or is he using another criteria? If so what? Was he suggesting relative decline? Again I find it frustrating that we don’t have more from the Archbishop on economic policy. Instead we get this tiresome assertion chucked in – which Lord Heseltine was right to challenge when he was interviewed today on The World at One.
The Archbishop of Canterbury goes on to refer to “the market-based trickle-down strategy of the 1980s and 1990s.” Come, come, Your Grace. Who expounded a “trickle-down strategy”? Dan Hannan reckons it’s a Leftist lie. If the Archbishop can come up with an economy who advanced such a theory then let’s hear it.
Still there is a more balanced picture offered by Welby than by Sentamu. The Archbishop of Canterbury makes reference to progress in Leeds, Manchester and Salford – rather undermining his earlier point. I suspect that (on the whole) Welby thinks it would be a good thing for most of us to be richer while Sentamu really thinks that (on the whole) it would be a welcome development if most of us were poorer. Let’s thrash all this out. Let’s have them quizzed by Andrew Neil and John Humphrys.
Of course the bishops can be criticised for talking such a lot about economics while they remain silent on matters such as abortion. But the deal should be that if they wish to be involved in providing guidance on economic policy they should make clear what they are proposing and why. If they are willing to do so then there contribution is to be welcomed.
It would also be welcome if politicians talked, in a more serious way, about morality.