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The ABC attacks “Big Society”

The ABC attacks “Big Society”

The news sites in Britain and the church blogs are lighting up with the news of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s newest essay in which he attacks the cuts being made to the social welfare nets in England.

As the Economist puts it:

“IN A country as secular as modern Britain, it is not every day that the Archbishop of Canterbury (the avuncular-looking bearded chap last seen officiating at the Royal Wedding) leads the BBC news bulletins. Rowan Williams has pulled it off this morning, though, via a startlingly direct attack on the coalition government in a guest editorial for the New Statesman.”

Here’s a taste of the Archbishop’s essay in the New Statesman:

Government badly needs to hear just how much plain fear there is around such questions at present. It isn’t enough to respond with what sounds like a mixture of, “This is the last government’s legacy,” and, “We’d like to do more, but just wait until the economy recovers a bit.” To acknowledge the reality of fear is not necessarily to collude with it. But not to recognise how pervasive it is risks making it worse. Equally, the task of opposition is not to collude in it, either, but to define some achievable alternatives. And, for that to happen, we need sharp-edged statements of where the disagreements lie.

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.

Reaction is to his criticism is divided. Many of the right, and members of the coalition government, are questioning what right he has to voice this criticism. He has his defenders, but there’s sense on the left of exasperation that his lack of action on other justice issues raises the question of why it’s this particular issue that’s he’s chosen to speak out upon. (The BBC has coverage of the divided reactions here, as well a discussion of other recent criticisms of the government by the Church of England.)

Google collects all the articles into one meta-page thusly.

The Church Mouse has a piece defending Williams arguing that he doesn’t say the things he’s been accused of saying.

There is a certain irony in all of this given the Archbishop’s clear push for the adoption of an Anglican Covenant; the process of which has been criticized for not spending enough time listening to the local voices, hearing of the local contexts and giving more people a chance to voice their concerns. Perhaps like Her Majesty’s government, the leaders of the Anglican Communion need to hear “just how much plain fear there is around such questions at present.”


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John B. Chilton

“Polls suggest there is still majority support for the coalition and its cuts package – if not for the practical consequences of their impact, which are still unfolding. .. Someone has to mind the shop. Williams’ strictures remind older readers of Archbishop Robert Runcie’s critique of Margaret Thatcher’s policies in the 80s. She definitely had a mandate, three in a row – and the Cameron government has a mandate of sorts, too: the coalition parties took 59% of the vote between them and most of its policies were visible in some form.”


“Tory backbenchers were less restrained. Roger Gale said: “Dr Williams clearly does not understand the democratic process. For him, as an unelected member of the upper house and as an appointed and unelected primate, to criticise the Coalition government as undemocratic and not elected to carry through its programme is unacceptable.” Gary Streeter, a fellow Conservative MP, dismissed suggestions that the Government’s reforms lacked public support, pointing out that his party had increased its vote in recent council elections. “The Archbishop, sadly and unusually for him, has ill-judged his attack,” he said.”

Paul Davison

The Archbishop made the point that no one voted for these policies. An anomoly of this Coalition Government in the UK is that no one was elected on its “platform” because it didn’t exist. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats each had their own platforms (as did Labour) and it wasn’t until after they agreed to form a Government after the election did their joint policies emerge.

I don’t have any issues with the Archbishop stating his views and I agree with some of them. I note that the PM said “I profoundly disagree with many of the views he’s expressed” while agreeing that he was “free to express political views”.

It is a bit different from the situation in the US where many Republican ran on economic issues and, when elected, then started pushing their social agenda. They can’t claim that they signed a coalition agreement after the election.

John B. Chilton

The expression that Michael Russell uses for tea partiers is a pejorative that does not belong in the Cafe. See: on language.

The anxiety the ABC describes could just as well describe the anxiety the tea partiers feel over the health care act. It’s massive and it has large unknown future consequences. And the reversal the Democrats in the midterms is how the voters express themselves.

What is it that John McCain says when it comes to Obama legislative victories — that’s what elections are for. The voters pass the reins to those they elect. That’s the way it works.

What people have not voted for is the ABC — he’s appointed. And the bishops in the House of Lords? Not elected. And bishops generally — appointed in the Church of England.

No one is stopping an open public debate on the Big Society. That’s what the ABC is participating in, and, for what it’s worth, to me he’s showing evidence of thinking more deeply about it than most especially in that he’s engaging in the ideas of the Big Society.

Oh dang, darn, durn, dwattit, this means Sarah Palin will no doubt be cancelling her appointment at Lambeth Palace.

What/what next?

Savi Hensman

I agree with Michael Russell. Some of the most vulnerable in UK society are at risk or already experiencing intensified hardship.

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