Faith & Reason: Blair's hidden agenda for the Church

Quietly, behind the scenes, New Labour is setting about creating a New Church of England. Andrew Brown predicts major changes.

One of the things about being badly beaten up is that after the first few shocks you don't notice much of what's happening: fresh blows can land and the damage only appears afterwards. So it has taken a while for the Church of England to notice what was done to it last week by the Blair government, and to realise, as it struggles up from a disastrous Synod meeting, that this time something vital may have been broken.

The man who put his boot into the kidneys was Stuart Bell MP, whose title is one of those grand vacuities that bubble out of the Establishment like cuckoo spit: he is the Second Church Estates Commissioner. The first Church Estates Commissioner is, of course, the Archbishop of Canterbury, but he doesn't matter. For Mr Bell's role, by contrast with his title, is not vacuous at all. He is the Government's proconsul, sent to govern the Church of England. Perhaps this overestimates his importance. Proconsuls, after all, were sent to govern the grandest and richest parts of the Empire. Mr Bell, in his conversations with the press, has given the impression that he is only a District Commissioner, sent into the bush to dispense justice to a particularly benighted, if colourful, tribe of savages. They are to be brought within the reach of civilisation, and they are to be grateful for it.

Of course, this message is not delivered too crudely to the natives. The Maxim guns stay under wraps, and the casual listener, unversed in bureaucratic language, might think he was merely paying ceremonial obeisance to their customs, not announcing that everything continued on the Government's sufferance.

Last week, he told the General Synod: "The link between Church and State is not, as some might think, obsolete or stagnant, but an evolving and dynamic partnership." So much windy nonsense has been talked about change, modernity, and relevance in the Synod that its members can be forgiven for not noticing that this particular rhetoric has a simple, unambiguous English translation: "We're going to change everything we feel like changing, and you must like it or lump it. New Labour: New Church of England."

A few were primed to notice this. The members of the Crown Appointments Commission (among them the Archbishop of Canterbury) know perfectly well that the Blair government has turned down both their choices for the See of Liverpool, something Mrs Thatcher never quite dared do, for all the arrogance of her toadies towards the Church. When Dr Carey was pressed about this in questions, he forgot his script and after preliminary stonewalling finally admitted: "I don't know how the news got out." Thus another illusion of the Church's importance is ended; and it did so with a whimper. If Dr Carey really does not know how the news got out, the answer is that it came from Downing Street.

In case anyone had missed the significance of this Mr Bell told the press afterwards the Government would continue to intervene in specific appointments of bishops. This is not the affectation of one District Commissioner, operating miles from the central administration: it is the belief of most of the devout and able Christians in this government that most of the Bench of Bishops, from the Archbishops down, have been promoted beyond their abilities, and would never have reached the top in a healthy organisation. Curiously, they don't blame the Church itself so much as the previous government and especially the evangelical mafia around Mrs Thatcher and her appointments secretary, Robin Catford, or Catfood as he was then known in Lambeth Palace, whose pressure was, of course, exerted more subtly.

So now the Government has stepped in: the whole process of comfortable, creeping disestablishment, which for the last 30 years has looked as if it would lead inevitably to a church which Parliament would not dare to interfere with, firmly established in the possession of its privileges and endowments, has come to a juddering halt. Mr Blair's office will determine who the bishops are. The Church Commissioners will continue to exist, and matter. In exchange, the Church of England is told by Mr Bell that establishment is safe, and that it did a good job in coping with the great outpouring of inarticulate (but scarcely Christian) sentiment over the death of Diana, Princess of Wales - even though privately senior New Labour figures think it reacted rather poorly.

It is clearly an offer they can't refuse; but I don't see how they can possibly accept it, either.

`Faith & Reason' is edited by Paul Vallely

Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star