Church must put people first

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TO HIS credit, David Cameron reiterated his belief recently that Britain is still “a Christian country” – even if many lament the erosion of traditional values, such as respect, which were once sacrosanct. As the Archbishop of York says today with characteristic vigour: “Our nation’s culture and heritage is that of a Christian country, this is something we should all be proud of, whether we have faith or none at all!”

Yet the Church of England should not be resisting change in order to appease its traditionalists. Far from it. The creation of a new diocese for West Yorkshire and the Dales, headed by the Right Reverend Nick Baines, is a nod to the need to have new structures in place in order to reach out to communities. And the Church’s work should not be defined by the size of the congregation worshipping every Sunday – its growing affiliation with food banks and community prayer sessions are examples of Christianity in practice.

In this regard, Bishop Baines is being totally pragmatic when he suggests that some churches may have to close because of this dilemma: should £100,000 a year be spent on maintenance costs for an under-utilised building of historic importance, or should a more enlightened decision be taken to rent premises in a school for £10,000 a year with the rest of the money used to help the CoE’s enduring mission in local communities and helping the impoverished?

In most walks of life, the latter option would be “a no-brainer” and the Church of England should not be afraid to move with the times and embrace a more pragmatic approach. For, while its history will always be priceless, its decisions should be driven by a need – and ability – to reach out to as many parishioners as possible. For, if it does, and there are positive signs that many congregations are increasing in size, there is a greater likelihood of the future taking care of itself and Britain’s Christian values still being upheld.

Leadership call: Who is region’s Alex Salmond?

THERE ARE two elements behind the call for sweeping new powers for local enterprise networks following a policy review headed by Wentworth MP John Healey, a former Labour minister.

His party wants to remind voters that it was Tony Blair who set up regional development agencies like Yorkshire Forward – and

that this coalition abolished these quangos and replaced them with hastily cobbled-together LEPs after a public outcry.

That said, Mr Healey makes some interesting observations about the need for LEPs to work on a more regional basis and for greater clarity about their future funding.

The great unknown, despite the enthusiastic support of Ed Balls, is whether a future Labour government would be in a position to give more freedom – and also more money – to the LEPs. And then there’s the discussion about what is the more important – structures or leadership?

According to Sir Simon Jenkins, the political commentator and National Trust chairman, it “needs only the emergence of a Yorkshire Alex Salmond” for this great county to be stirred into demanding a new relationship with Westminster.

Cameron cameos: The forgotten age of deference

WHAT has happened to the age of deference? It is a question that has even more resonance after David Cameron’s visit to an upmarket fast-food chain became a social media free-for-all as customers posted tweets, selfies and so forth as the Prime Minister tucked into a meal.

There was a time, back in Harold Macmillan’s era, when premiers limited their public appearances so they were only seen – and heard – when they had something important to tell the country. Now political leaders are beholden to

the likes of Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle, with major announcements devalued as a consequence.

In this regard, it is a depressing reflection of the parlous state of contemporary politics when leaders like Mr Cameron feel the need to be seen in places like Nando’s as part of an attempt – subliminal or otherwise – to prove their ordinariness. There was no need for Downing Street to confirm that the PM ate chicken and coleslaw.

Margaret Thatcher’s erstwhile press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham, The Yorkshire Post’s Wednesday columnist, would have given very short shrift to requests about what his boss chose to eat for dinner.

That said, it is also indicative of social media acolytes that they do not possess the manners to allow their Prime Minister to eat in a degree of peace and quiet. To rework one of Lady Thatcher’s most famous quotes: “No, no, no.”