The Most Stephen Cottrell speaks out on the eve of the Budget and ahead of the launch of his new book, Dear England, which sets out a new Christian narrative for the country.
In his first wide-ranging interview with The Yorkshire Post, he says the phenomenon of digital services in lockdown will lead to a “hybrid church” in the future.
But he also appeals to Westminster’s leaders to change their approach to help make policy progress on totemic societal issues like low pay, housing, social care and climate change.
He says these issues “transcend party politics”. I do think sometimes a lot of problems in this country are caused by the binary ‘you’re for it or you’re against it’ adversarial style of our politics,” says York’s 98th Archbishop who was enthroned eight months ago.
“It’s very hard to make long-term change when you know you need to be re-elected in a few years’ time. I think that’s a problem for our politics...
“But it does mean the church is free – you and your readers may think otherwise – but I don’t need to seek re-election in a few years time.
“I’m free to say things which might be a bit uncomfortable, but often resonate with things that ordinary people long for.”
In his book, the Archbishop says last year’s Clap for Carers celebration every Thursday night in honour of the NHS was a powerful message “about the kind of society we wanted to live in, one where basic care, in this instance healthcare, is available to everyone”.
He goes on: “We were thanking those whose own lives were at risk in the service of these ideas. Pulling together, teamwork, collaboration – these are the best of what it is to be human: they reflect the very being of God, and they are, therefore, the best of British.
“They can become a new Englishness, one that is not defined in opposition to others, but, as in the United Kingdom itself, in a new and collaborative set of relationships.
“I am proud to be English and British. And European in a newly defined way. I want to live in a society that doesn’t just care about profit for its own sake, but uses wealth in the service of others, not in the service of personal gain.”
The Archbishop stresses he is a churchman and not a politician, and he does not want to personally criticise Government ministers doing their best in current circumstances.
He also says it is significant that Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England footballer, has been so more effective with his child food poverty campaign than other public figures.
“I don’t want to knock our politicians but I think the reason Marcus Rashford has been listened to is because what he is saying resonates with the ordinary decency of most people who, I think if you sat down with them,would say ‘Of course we understand it has to be paid for and of course we get all that’,” he went on.
“Actually there are some things that are so basic – I remember a previous Prime Minister saying there isn’t a magic money tree and we all agreed. When necessary it is amazing what you can do.
“Now the huge national debt that we have as a result of Covid will have to be paid for, and that is going to be a burden for the rest of our lifetimes and for our children’s lifetimes, but I think most of us do think it was the right thing to do.
“In a civilised nation, where you want there to be basic things in place for people like health care, housing, education, basic things for people, I think we should all accept that they have to be paid for and they’re paid for by taxation and that is a shared cost.
“Of course none of us want to pay higher taxes if we don’t have to, but I fear in not presenting a big vision, the danger is we start thinking taxation is a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing, and we must hold the politicians to account on what they do with it.”
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