Friday, 10 June 2011
Williams and Cameron
Two things strike me about the Rowan Williams media frenzy of the last couple of days. One is not so much what he says, but the level of interest in what he says. The New Statesman article is characteristically intelligent, thoughtful, perhaps even a little opaque at times, but if it had been written by any other person (except perhaps Prince Philip) would it have gained anything like the same coverage? On the surface it is a critique of current political debate similar to what you find every day in the broadsheets, but when the ABC says it, it has a lot more power. Christians sometimes moan that no-one listens to the church any more, or that our leaders don't speak out: but this shows the opposite. There is an intense interest when a Christian leader, as the voice of the nation's conscience, speaks to government, as Rowan has done.
The other thing is the level of misreporting. The piece seems to me a model of how to speak to government. It takes no sides, but has some uncomfortable questions for both government and opposition. The Government needs to explain its big idea more clearly. The Opposition needs to find one. Otherwise we are stuck:
"Government badly needs to hear just how much plain fear there is around such questions at present. It isn't enough to respond with what sounds like a mixture of, "This is the last government's legacy," and, "We'd like to do more, but just wait until the economy recovers a bit." To acknowledge the reality of fear is not necessarily to collude with it. But not to recognise how pervasive it is risks making it worse. Equally, the task of opposition is not to collude in it, either, but to define some achievable alternatives. And, for that to happen, we need sharp-edged statements of where the disagreements lie."
Does that sound to you like the one-sided rant the Telegraph reported, or David Cameron responded to? The PM seems to have read the Telegraph, but not the original article, which just illustrates exactly the point about the poverty of political debate that RW is making.
At the end, the Archbishop starts to lay out a Christian communal vision, an idea of a society which is about "the mutual creation of capacity, building the ability of the other person or group to become, in turn, a giver of life and responsibility". It perhaps needs a snappier title, but to my mind that is a more promising and attractive 'big idea' than either left or right have at the moment.
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