In a statement characteristic of the current political climate in the Church of England, the House of Bishops issued a letter ostensibly aimed at helping the faithful make up their mind on the imminent UK election.
After some initial positive comments about the need for everyone to vote the letter laid out a typically left-wing view of society and politics, including:
- Pro-Europe, arguing that “there is an enduring argument for continuing to build structures of trust and cooperation between the nations of Europe.
- Nuclear disarmament: “Shifts in global strategic realities mean that the traditional arguments for nuclear deterrence need re-examining.”
- Statist: “We need a richer justification for the state, a better account of the purpose of government, and a more serious way of talking about politics.”
The letter suggested that inequality and social injustice had increased under the coalition and that burden of austerity had fallen on the poor. It also contained a call to replace the first-past-the-post voting system with a form of proportional representation. There was considerable criticism of the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, describing the economic and social changes of the 1980s as “fragmenting social solidarity at many levels.”
The left-wing emphasis of the letter was confirmed by the Professor of Government at the University of Essex, Paul Whiteley, who said that letter was a combination of the policies of the Greens, SNP and the Labour Party.
Despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s diplomatic response that he “welcomed” the letter, the response amongst Conservative politicians has been more outspoken with Member of Parliament Conor Burns describing it as “naive,” and Nadine Dorries said the letter had a, “very definite left-wing leaning to their message.”
In a particularly cutting remark former Tory minister Lord Tebbit, after describing the Bishops as “mostly wrong” said, “In my experience, when people are not doing very well in their own job, they become very much better at telling other people how to do theirs.”
In what was seen as a direct attack on UKIP, the Bishops wrote that there has been “an ugly undercurrent of racism in every debate about immigration.” The letter also criticises any attempts to reduce the overseas aid budget, describing calls to cut or abolish the aid as “globally irresponsible”.
There was a lack of comment from either Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg but Labour front-bencher Stephen Timms tweeted that he saw the letter as a “thoughtful and authentically Christian reflection.”