Is the Church too political?

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ON THE first day of Lent, one of the most important events in the Christian calendar, it does seem rather perverse that the Church of England appears more pre-occupied with the general election rather than facing up to its own ecclesiastical challenges.

This, after all, is an organisation which wants to preach about equality – and related issues – less than a month after consecrating its first female bishop, a landmark that came more than 35 years after one Margaret Thatcher entered Downing Street.

As The Yorkshire Post’s columnist GP Taylor argues on the opposite page, the symbolism and importance of Lent has become lost in a Church. The clergyman says it can be “relevant for a modern age”, with people making commitments to help themselves and society, if bishops “take away the grim and dowdy image”.

This view will be shared by those Conservative MPs, such as Nadine Dorries, who believe that the Church’s intervention has been deliberately timed to enhance the Labour Party’s election prospects, even though the House of Bishops makes clear that its intention is to tell people not how to vote – but why it is important to participate on polling day.

Some perspective is required. There are senior CoE clergy, like the Archbishop of York, who have gone out of their way to make the Church more relevant to the 21st century, and to provide help to the vulnerable that is both practical and pragmatic.

However, despite the good deeds of Dr John Sentamu and others, the Church does need to recognise that the next government – irrespective of its composition – will not be able to write a blank cheque and that the most effective way of tackling inequality is by creating more job opportunities for all sections of society. If leading bishops were more willing to recognise these points, they might not find their approach coming under such heavy criticism.

The apprentices: Battle for youth vote intensifies

THIS is the week when Labour and the Tories are setting out their pitch for the ‘youth vote’ – and how they will transform the future prospects of young people. Contrary to the impression created by the Church of England, this is one area where the Conservatives have seized the initiative from the Opposition.

After all, it was David Cameron who used his last party conference speech to promise to abolish youth unemployment and create three million apprenticeships. Ed Miliband finally set out his own plans on Monday by promising to create 80,000 additional high quality apprenticeships.

Mr Cameron’s response? A warning that young people out of work, education or training for six months will have to undertake unpaid community work if they wish to retain their entitlement to state benefits if the Tories are returned to power.

Unlike the last government, he certainly does not intend to be complacent on this issue, but there is a risk that the Prime Minister’s rhetoric makes this approach sound like a punishment rather than part of a compassionate effort to improve the life chances of young people.

However, rather than this argument over which party has the best apprenticeships, is there any chance of them finding some common ground? It’s the question that young people are asking as they watch rival leaders treat this issue as the electoral equivalent of television’s The Apprentice. No wonder the younger generations do not share the appetite for voting that their parents and grandparents once did.

A grand departure: Ministers perform cycling U-turn

A YEAR ago, Yorkshire’s landmark hosting of the Tour de France’s Grand Départ was in jeopardy owing to an impasse over Government funding.

Annoyed that the county had secured the honour ahead of the state-approved bid by Edinburgh, Ministers threatened to withhold their £10m share of financial support.

They were eventually persuaded to give Yorkshire a chance and the rest, as they say, is history. Who can forget the scenes across the county on that July weekend – and then the stark contrast with the deserted streets in Cambridge when the race moved south?

This time, Whitehall seems happy to contribute to the marketing costs of the Tour de Yorkshire and the provision of better cycling facilities around the region.

Welcome as this is, not least in terms of securing a long-term cycling legacy for the region, it is a pity such faith was not in evidence until after Yorkshire wowed the world with a Grand Départ that was dubbed the best in the race’s history.