April 24: Is the Church too political?

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JUDGING by the sterile tone of this general election campaign, and the likelihood that around one third of registered voters will abstain, many will concur with the Bishop of Huddersfield’s conclusion on the opposite page that “politics is far too important to leave to the politicians”.

Trust is still at a low ebb – it has yet to recover from the ramifications of the 2009 Parliamentary expenses scandal – and Britain’s partisan politics can often mean that constructive policy proposals are overlooked because of the tendency of Ministers (from all parties) to believe erroneously that they know best from the moment that they receive their seals of office.

They do not and institutions like the Church of England have not been afraid to intervene on social policy, not least with its controversial pre-election manifesto which overlooked moral issues – like the institution of marriage – and rallied against the market economy created by Margaret Thatcher’s reforms in the 1980s.

And this is where the role of the Church becomes blurred. Even though the Right Reverend Dr Jonathan Gibbs argued in last night’s Harold Wilson memorial lecture that clergy should create “communities of hope” and show to the world “that there is a better way of going about things”, there is one flaw to this notion – the Church can deliver a policy panacea because it will never have to explain how it intends to protect welfare spending while also maintaining overseas aid spending and so forth.

This is not new. The deeply divisive Faith in the City report of 1985 set the tone for successive Archbishops of Canterbury – Robert Runcie, George Carey, Rowan Williams and now Justin Welby – to be at odds with legislators. And, until bishops inject a dose of financial realism into their demands, some would contend that politics is too important to be left to the mercy of an interventionist Church of England.

Power struggle

Osborne needs to change tactics

IN some respects, it is encouraging, but not altogether unexpected less than two weeks away from polling day, that George Osborne is prepared to revisit the devolution deals which he recently signed off for the Leeds and Sheffield city-regions. It is a tacit admission that the measures do not compare favourably with the powers being afforded to Greater Manchester, Yorkshire’s economic rival across the Pennines.

Yet it remains to be seen whether the Chancellor will be in a position to negotiate with this region’s political leaders on May 8. For, despite the Conservative Party’s increasingly dire prophecies about the consequences of a post-election pact between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists, the opinion polls are still to swing in favour of the Tories in spite of Mr Osborne presiding over a marked upturn in the economy.

Perhaps the reason is that voters, and particularly those in the marginal constituencies along the M62 corridors, believe the Tory attacks are a smoke-screen to mask flaws in the Conservative strategy, namely disquiet on the public’s part about the future of the NHS and welfare state and the Institute for Fiscal Studies rebuking the major parties for choosing not to provide sufficient clarity over their financial plans.

After choosing the Morley and Outwood constituency of Mr Osborne’s chief critic Ed Balls to make his latest election speech, Mr Osborne might come to rue the fact that he did not take the opportunity to hammer home the message that the Tories are the one true party of aspiration for the whole country, Yorkshire and Scotland included.

Teddy’s gift of life

Britain’s youngest-ever lifesaver

THE wonders of medical science, particularly when it is wedded to individual courage, never cease to astonish. In the case of Teddy Houlston, who became Britain’s youngest organ donor when he died just 100 minutes after birth, both those factors were paramount in the successful surgery undertaken at St James’s Hospital in Leeds which saw his kidneys save the life of a patient who was being treated for renal failure.

The remarkable operation owes much to the skill of the surgeons concerned, but above all to the courage and selflessness of Teddy’s parents. Having been told that their son – one of twins – had a rare and fatal condition which prevents the brain and skull developing, they were determined his all too short life would not be in vain.

The fact that Teddy’s organs have given life to another is a source of considerable comfort to them – and they rightly hope it may inspire other parents to seek similar solace.