Archbishop Critic on Coalition Government

It is worth reading Rowan Williams’ leader in the “NewStatesman” here – he guest edited the latest edition. News reports suggest the church being critical about the secular government. In reality he makes the observation that by lacking a madate from the General election pursuing radical reform of education and health without clear consultation is not healthy for democracy.

That hardly seems like the wall of separation between church and state being brought down by common sense. The part that may be of more interest on how people should act in society:

“For someone like myself, there is an ironic satisfaction in the way several political thinkers today are quarrying theological traditions for ways forward. True, religious perspectives on these issues have often got bogged down in varieties of paternalism. But there is another theological strand to be retrieved that is not about “the poor” as objects of kindness but about the nature of sustainable community, seeing it as one in which what circulates – like the flow of blood – is the mutual creation of capacity, building the ability of the other person or group to become, in turn, a giver of life and responsibility. Perhaps surprisingly, this is what is at the heart of St Paul’s ideas about community at its fullest; community, in his terms, as God wants to see it.”

Paul had quite a few things to say on social policy regarding the role of women, homosexuals, and the emphasis not so much on the recorded words of Jesus but faith in Christ. If only the Royal Mail had been delivering his letters so that theologians may have concentrated on what Jesus said and meant.

Williams goes on:

“A democracy that would measure up to this sort of ideal – religious in its roots but not exclusive or confessional – would be one in which the central question about any policy would be: how far does it equip a person or group to engage generously and for the long term in building the resourcefulness and well-being of any other person or group, with the state seen as a “community of communities”, to use a phrase popular among syndicalists of an earlier generation?”

Having criticised Cameron for not explaining the Big Society concept a shame he does not expand on how the concept of the state as a community of communities works. Commentators miss Williams’ praise for Iain Duncan Smith (Cabinet Minister on social matters) in seeing the need to empower the disadvantaged to affect real social change.

He criticises the left too for not having an alternative idea on society to add to the melting pots of ideas. There is only one part which could be seen as meddling in politics which the papers have missed.

For by criticising referendums as government by plebiscite, and that the government lacks a mandate from the people to govern (when in reality this comes from parliament) what he is hinting at is an early election – and the political parties had better spell out what they want to do.

That, not his views on social policy or how the coalition government has acted, is the breech in the Wall. He has used the concept of legitimacy founded on popular sovereignty to criticise the government that exists based on parliamentary democracy.

Perhaps not as eye catching for readers, but really Williams is hinting the government has no legitimacy to govern without endorsement by the public at an election. I have in earlier blog called for such a requirement after a year and a half of a coalition in the constitution. Should the Archbishop be making such undertones in a secular society?


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