January 27: A momentous day for the Church

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THROUGHOUT its near 1,500-year history, York Minster – or at least the sacred site it occupies – has been witness to remarkable chapters in the nation’s history.

It has experienced William the Conqueror’s harrying of the North, the turbulent years of the Reformation and a series of devastating fires. But in terms of significance, these were all outweighed by yesterday’s momentous events.

The consecration of the country’s first female bishop was long overdue, yet it is no less welcome for that, representing as it does the Church of England’s belated entry into the 21st century.

Though far from universally popular among traditionalists, the failure to usher in this new era would have made the Church’s struggle for relevance even more difficult, signalling that it sought exemptions from the realities of the modern society that it wishes to serve.

The consecration of the Rev Libby Lane was acknowledgement too of the contribution women have made to the Church – from some of the earliest Christian converts to St Hilda, Abbess of Whitby Abbey in the 7th century. It also recognises the vital role they continue to play as the mainstay of the Church in communities throughout the country.

However, this is not a question of tokenism or human rights. Clergy are called to serve God, and by that rationale there can be no justification for continuing to bar women from answering such a call.

Finally, there must be a word of praise for Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, who has campaigned – and prayed – tirelessly for this moment. He was surely right when he wrote in this newspaper that “in a few years’ time when more and more women will be bishops, I predict we shall be wondering how we ever managed without them”.

The Church’s slow but sure process of finding new relevance in the modern age owes much to Dr Sentamu’s courage and zeal.

A Greek tragedy

Promises cannot be funded

ALEXIS Tsipras, the telegenic leader of Syriza, the far-left party that has swept to power in Greece, has a modest agenda for his first day in office.

He has pledged to reverse the country’s austerity measures and cancel its debt repayments, while at the same time raising the minimum wage, increasing pensions, expanding healthcare and giving free electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes.

The warning of German Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, who said he hoped “the new Greek government will not make promises it cannot keep

and the country cannot afford”, appears to be falling on deaf ears.

The triumph of Syriza poses serious questions not just for the future of the Eurozone but the very notion of nations paying for their mistakes.

It may be understandable that a country struggling under the burden of punishing bailout terms would seek salvation in the arms of a party that promises a rejection of austerity, but Greece’s headlong rush to embrace a politician who promises the earth is destined to end in disaster.

Now on a collision course with its international creditors that could fatally undermine the Euro, it underlines once again why Britain is better off outside the single currency.

Yet it also poses a threat to the return to growth here, with the risk that the UK will follow Greece’s lead in rejecting austerity and thereby derail the recovery plan necessitated by Labour’s recklessness. With 100 days to the election, it would be a grave mistake for voters to fall into the arms of a party with no credible plan for getting back into the black and no serious proposals for reforming Britain’s relationship with what is now an increasingly precarious European Union.

Mind the middle

Less well-off feeling the pinch

FEARS that voters here might be seduced by politicians offering a similar anti-austerity pipedream to that of Alexis Tsipras will not be dampened by a report which suggests four years of tax help for hard working families was wiped out by benefit cuts.

Researchers from three universities, including York, say cuts to tax credits and cash benefits took more away from those in the bottom half than they gained through higher tax allowances.

If David Cameron is to secure an outright majority in May then it is imperative that his economic reforms are seen to be fair to all, especially those at the bottom end of society and in the squeezed middle.

Ronald Reagan’s “trickle-down” economics were debunked two decades ago – yet such studies suggest the Government is straying dangerously close to similar territory.