Bishop fears for local democracy

THE BISHOP of Guildford, the Right Rev Michael Adie, has warned of a dangerous erosion of local democracy and a return to the politics of 'divide and rule'.

In a speech to the Guildford Diocesan Synod, the bishop, who is chairman of the Church of England Board of Education, attacked cuts in local authority powers, singling out the Education Bill which diminishes local authorities' responsibility for education.

'In education, power is moving away from the town hall to the local school on the one hand and to Whitehall on the other. The net effect of that may well be the centralisation of power on the old basis of divide and rule, or it may be that people become so parochial in outlook that they cannot appreciate the real complexities of regional or national issues.

'What happens to education today may happen to the police or social services tomorrow. We should be vigilant,' he said.

The bishop argued that parliamentary democracy was dependent on a democratic infrastructure. 'Democratic government has collapsed in many parts of Africa, and in parts of the former Soviet Union, in part because there has been little supportive democracy locally, in trade unions and organisations generally. Parliamentary democracy in this country may be undermined if we allow local democracy to be weakened.'

The Right Rev David Wilcox, suffragan bishop in Guildford diocese, said: 'What we have to work out in the Church of England is how to reflect the views of lay people in an episcopal church. Democracies are never perfect: although the Bishop of Guildford was very much in favour of women's ordination and the result of the vote was clear, there is still the possibility in a democracy that the majority can be mistaken.'