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Monday 11 March 2013

Free Speech But Not For Archbishops

That the establishment has a problem with the Archbishop of Canterbury is not new: that can be traced back to Henry II dispatching his followers to do away with Thomas a Becket in 1170. At least nowadays the disputes are conducted via less violent intermediaries in the press, but the venom is just as poisonous, as the current Archbishop has found even before his enthronement.

St Paul's cathedral

Justin Welby has been chosen to succeed Rowan Williams, whose cerebral approach brought forth bile and ridicule by all those not connected to the Anglican communion, especially those paid for their opinions. Little has changed with the change in office holder, as Welby discovered when he had the audacity to pass an opinion on Government policy at the weekend.

Not known as an Anglican stalwart, the Telegraph’s Tim Stanley, who you can tell as he’s a doctor, hasdeemed Welby’s objection to some welfare reforms “an attack”. This is held to show that it is “a socialist priest versus a conservative Prime Minister”. Stanley calls the Archbishop “mistaken” for “shuffling [people] from one type of assistance to another and slowly cutting them off from the labour market”.

By the most fortunate of coincidences, this is exactly the same line taken by Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips in the Mail. “You don’t beat poverty by trapping families on welfare benefits, Archbishop” she thunders, from the soundly based Anglican perspective afforded someone who is, er, Jewish. So, apart from having two fridges, what else does Mel have to tell us?

She is disappointed at Welby’s decision to side with more than 40 Anglican bishops in expressing concern at the effect of capping benefit payments on families with children. This, after all, is a “boilerplate activist rant” (Mel knows all about ranting). She then asserts that the bishops are in league with the Children’s Society, on the grounds that what they say is a bit like what the Society says.

Both pundits assume – wrongly – that anyone receiving benefits is out of work. Hence the constant assertion that poor people are being “enslaved”, or “trapped ... in permanent disadvantage”. There is talk of the need for “moral leadership”, and the suggestion that taking benefits away will make things better as they would no longer be “subsidised to live in idleness or moral squalor”.

No, and with at least four applicants for every job vacancy, they’d just be plain old skint. What the reaction to Welby’s intervention tells us is that the comfort of well remunerated hackery remains a fruitful source of righteous judgment, that free speech does not extend to the clergy, and that everybody is an expert on the human condition bar those who actually devote their lives to it.

Archbishop Welby should ignore this rabble. His ministry is rather more important.

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