Thursday, 9 June 2011

The 80s revival continues

Back in 1985, the Anglicans published Faith in the City, and caused rather a stir. After the second World War, the Church of England had again lost the radicalism which briefly stirred it up in the 1930s, embodied in the early career of Cosmo Lang.

Faith in the City surprised the Thatcher government: they'd long considered the C of E to be the Tory Party at prayer, but the report strongly attacked the Conservatives' rejection of social values in favour of Hobbesian tooth-and-claw individualism. Tory ministers were heard muttering about turbulent priests.

Henry II's words are no doubt being bandied about in Whitehall's corridors once more. That bearded Welsh lefty Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has pointed out the plain truth: that this government is driving through a set of inhumane policies without any electoral mandate.
On the 'Big Society':
The widespread suspicion that this has been done for opportunistic or money-saving reasons allows many to dismiss what there is of a programme for "big society" initiatives; even the term has fast become painfully stale.
On democracy and government:
Managerial politics, attempting with shrinking success to negotiate life in the shadow of big finance, is not an attractive rallying point, whether it labels itself (New) Labour or Conservative. There is, in the middle of a lot of confusion, an increasingly audible plea for some basic thinking about democracy itself - and the urgency of this is underlined by what is happening in the Middle East and North Africa. 
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. Not many people want government by plebiscite, certainly. 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. The anxiety and anger have to do with the feeling that not enough has been exposed to proper public argument.
On what the Tories have done to society (with Labour's shameful connivance):

The uncomfortable truth is that, while grass-roots initiatives and local mutualism are to be found flourishing in a great many places, they have been weakened by several decades of cultural fragmentation. The old syndicalist and co-operative traditions cannot be reinvented overnight and, in some areas, they have to be invented for the first time.
This is not helped by a quiet resurgence of the seductive language of "deserving" and "undeserving" poor, nor by the steady pressure to increase what look like punitive responses to alleged abuses of the system.

In truth, the article is balanced, thoughtful, even-handed and even slightly dull, because we're all used to reading hysterical propaganda. But Williams' intervention is important, despite his position as head of a minor and declining cult. I particularly relish the reference to syndicalism: as a Welshman, he knows the proud history of Valleys syndicalism, which produced an open-minded and independent Communist Party in strong contrast to the slavish Stalinism practised by the CPGB.

Nothing else gets through to the Tories and their Lib Dem homunculi: maybe this will at least annoy them a little.

(Sorry there's no link to the article: the New Statesman's webpage has just crashed).


ed said...

It's a strange week indeed when I lose a lot of respect for Richard Dawkins and gain some for Rowan Williams.

The Plashing Vole said...

You said it…