Chris Bryant: Bishops – stick a mitre on them and strange things begin to happen

A Political Life

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Some of my best friends are bishops. OK, I'm exaggerating, but I do know a few and they are as warm, compassionate, profligate and naughty as the next man. Indeed, I recall one supposedly celibate but notoriously lascivious bishop chasing me round a piano in my younger days.

I don't know what it is about donning a mitre, but it seems to addle the brain. Just take their stance on women. Forty-two dioceses have now voted for a simple measure to allow women bishops. Just two said no. Yet the bishops, in a bizarre attempt to appease those who want to seal themselves off from anyone who has ever even laid eyes on a woman priest, have come up with a ludicrous last-minute amendment which will lead to a permanent apartheid in the church. It's meant to be debated in Synod over the next two days, but depressingly leaves those campaigning for women bishops with the unenviable choice of voting for delay or for apartheid.

It's precisely the kind of episcopal jiggery-pokery that makes me want to release the bishops from the Lords, so the moment the Lords Reform Bill gets its second reading in the Commons on Tuesday (as I am sure it will) I shall table an amendment to remove them.

The shambles of World Pride

What is it about the gays that we can't organise a decent march and carnival? This year's World Pride, supposedly being celebrated in London today with a mass march and party throughout Soho, should have been a triumphant occasion, bringing in millions of pounds of business to a battered economy on the eve of the Olympics.

It could have been the launch pad for a mass campaign for marriage equality. After all, in a meeting of liberal clergy hosted by Yvette Cooper in the Shadow Cabinet room on Wednesday, it became abundantly clear that the Government's proposals, should they ever be put to Parliament, don't go far enough as they would ban religious same-sex marriage. Yet there are plenty of people of faith who want to do so in the eyes of God. (Interestingly, the Anglicans were by far the most critical of the CofE on its supposed opposition to same-sex marriage, citing a recent survey for The Church Times that found that the bishops are way out of step with their own congregations. As one put it, "It's not that they don't practise what they preach. The problem is they don't preach what they practise.")

Or Pride could have forced into the cold light of day the sheer brutality of homophobic bullying and highlighted the work of the charity Diversity Role Models, which goes into schools to break down the prejudices that lead to bullying.

Instead, we have the embarrassing scene of an organisation in crisis that has failed to pay last year's bills, and a consequently massively curtailed event. Of course, Boris Johnson could and should have helped out. But, to be honest, there are plenty of LGBT businesses, and for that matter men and women, who have done extremely well out of the pink pound, and could have dipped a hand in their pockets, even at the last minute. And surely to God there must be someone who is prepared to organise next year's event properly.

Justice at last for Argentina's dead

It's taken time, but it's good news that at long last Jorge Videla, one of the military junta that ran Argentina between 1976 and 1983, is to go to prison for organising a mass programme of seizing the babies of known radicals (many of them murdered by his underlings) and handing them out for adoption, like so many undeserved Christmas presents, to supposedly right-thinking military families.

I spent six months in Buenos Aires in 1986, helping in a human rights organisation and studying liberation theology at the Protestant theological college ISEDET. One thing struck me on my daily bus journey: at one point everyone would studiously look out the left-hand window and on the return look to the right. One day I asked a colleague what it was all about. He told me to look the other way next time. Sure enough there was a vast derelict building with the chilling words "aquí se fusiló" painted in letters six foot high, "here people were shot". My colleague explained. "We thought it was a hospital, but it was a death camp. Behind every one of those windows was a metal bed on which people were tied and doused with filthy water before having electrodes applied to every part of their body. I'm told your teeth were even more painful than your genitals."

Happy memories of Robin Cook

I think of next week's business in the Commons as the Robin Cook memorial week. It was he who mounted the first modern attempt at Lords Reform as Leader of the House, only for it to plough into the thick clay of conservatism (on both sides of the house). But he also tried to get the sitting hours changed to something rather more like the working life of an ordinary human being. So when we vote on bringing Monday sittings forward from 2.30 to 1.00 and Tuesdays from 2.30 to 11.30, I shall be thinking of Robin. Mind you, this time I reckon the changes will go through as there is now a swathe of Tory seats near London where the MP has to travel home every night rather than stay in London – and I know how they're going to vote.

Robin knew the political condition so well that when he published a book of memoirs, Point of Departure, he pointed out to colleagues that there was no index. So if we wanted to know if we got a mention we would have to buy it rather than just look ourselves up in the bookshop.

Twitter: @ChrisBryantMP

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