Friday Book: A radical churchman with a relevant message

Radical Churchman Edward Lee Hicks and the New Liberalism by Graham Neville (Clarendon Press, Oxford, pounds 50)

TONY BLAIR has spoken of his ideas stemming as much from the advanced liberalism of Keynes and Beveridge as from the Attlee administration of 1945. That the forces of radicalism are divided across two parties helps to explain why this century has been dominated by the Conservatives. For those interested in Labour's attempt to cement together the two main radical traditions, this book about Edward Leigh Hicks is surprisingly relevant.

Not least, in that it shows how quickly radicals can be forgotten. No one I have asked can recall who Hicks was. Yet by his death, in 1919, he was far and away the most politically advanced bishop.

Hicks did not go to a theological college, so his education was identical with that of his lay peers. His language and imagery were easily understood by his audiences. Hicks's political and social philosophy came directly from his view of the Gospels. That he had the chance to influence the national debate stemmed, in part, from his fortuitously close association with the legendary Manchester Guardian editor, CP Scott, who, like Hicks, was interested in forming a new radical alliance with Lloyd George at its head. But Hicks's position also owed much to his years of hard work in one of the country's poorest parishes.

In his first appointment, to a rural parish, Hicks began developing out of an evangelical background towards the role of a leading churchman with a deep concern for social reform. But most of his ministry was in the north, in Salford and Manchester. His politics, as well as his churchmanship, was based squarely on the political experience of ministering to the poor.

Hicks was politically astute. Sometimes he saw the importance of operating through church groups; on other occasions he worked through secular organisations. The Christian Social Union is a good example of his church endeavour. This brilliant little pressure group, a kind of hybrid Shelter/CPAG of its day, made the most profound impact. It ranks as the most effective Christian Socialist organisation to have operated in this country.

On temperance, Hicks saw the advantage of allying with a secular campaign. He was strongly in favour of the local option, where people decided their own drink laws. The local approach to solving national issues is significant. He believed that only by building support from the bottom could radical politics take root.

More generally, Hicks was wary of too fast an implementation of socialism. His objection was that socialism required too high a degree of social conscience in ordinary people to be launched unilaterally on an unregenerate world. The history of the 20th century would have been profoundly different if his wisdom had won the day.

It was the range of Hicks's radicalism which Conservatives spun as a sign of instability. Archbishop Davidson, frenetically lobbying prime minister Asquith against Hicks's appointment as a bishop, labelled him faddish - as if someone with a comprehensive programme was in some way insane. The evidence of Davidson's covert lobbying against Hicks, all based on hearsay, is a welcome reminder of the value of a state input into senior Church appointments. Asquith finally won by appointing Hicks Bishop of Lincoln, in a similar battle to the one Tony Blair had recently over the appointment of a Bishop of Liverpool.

Hicks never felt part of the in-crowd. But he was fearless - in helping, for example, to form an early branch of the Labour Party in his diocese. Which bishop would do that today! This book is the first study of how a radical liberal churchman moved towards Labour. His career shows that traditional history's concentration on the Oxford-London axis is a poor guide to what was happening in the rest of the country. It shows, too, how unrepresentative is the normal obsession with Victorian and Edwardian sectarianism.

It also emphasises that the political-religious debate was not just a series of clashes between Conservatives and Christian Socialists. And it shows how someone with talent could ride the two wild horses of the century - biblical scholarship and the development of a middle-class conscience - for the benefit of Church and state alike.

Frank Field

The reviewer is Labour MP for Birkenhead and former minister for welfare reform

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future