By George, Dr Carey’s right! All those poor people need food banks because their feckless parents never taught them to cook

This bishop holds quite different views to his clerical brethren


Those who pride themselves on having effective antennae to detect propaganda tend to dismiss tales that sound too cute to be true as precisely that. Hitler almost certainly had both testicles, and we all know (well, not quite all, as we shall see) that King Canute was using an ironic gesture to make a point. So was Caligula, who merely threatened to make his horse consul to satirise the Senate’s slavish obedience, while Catherine the Great probably did not have congress with hers.

With some apparent canards, however, it seems far less outlandish that they are the literal truth than that they are the product of mischievous invention, and you have no choice but to believe them. George Carey’s elevation to the Holiest of Sees is just such a special case.

Apologies if you’ve heard it before, but for our younger and more godless readers, the story is as follows. In 1991, when Robert Runcie retired as Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican hierarchy was desperate for John Habgood, the deeply intellectual Archbishop of York, to succeed him. Aware that Mrs Thatcher would not be keen on another lefty in Lambeth Palace, they hatched a cunning plan to ensure his election. As the other candidate presented to the PM, they plumped for the one cleric in Christendom too plain thick for even Mrs T to choose. She would be less likely to select the evangelist bishop of Bath and Wells, they calculated, than the baby-eating usurer who held that post in Blackadder. They calculated wrong.

In the intervening years, Dr Carey has done all in his power to establish the impossibility that his colleagues thought him a serious candidate to lead the Anglican communion – and when you have eliminated the impossible, as the Dean of Baker Street put it, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Since leaving Lambeth Palace, Dr Carey has respectfully aped his benefactress’s approach to retirement. Regarding himself as an excellent back-street driver, he has caused his successors unending embarrassment with muscularly right‑wing interventions. He has taken to print to paint British Christians as barely less a “persecuted minority” than those in Caligula’s Rome; to rail against mass immigration and its malign effect on the concept of Britishness; to criticise the authorities at St Paul’s for allowing the “opportunistic and cynical” Occupy protesters to set up camp outside the church; and to warn that gay marriage, in some mysterious way its wonders to perform, would lead both to polygamy and the wedlock of siblings.

His latest tour de force, in The Times, comes in response to the 27 Anglican bishops who have advised David Cameron that the rise of the food bank represents a “national crisis”, and that with more than 5,000 admitted to hospital last year with malnutrition, he has “a moral duty” to address the hideous effects of benefit cuts.


With wonted grace, Carey concedes that mass hunger is a seemly matter for clerical concern. Where he and his brethren differ is over the analysis of the cause. Carey believes that the root of the problem is nothing as fanciful as people not having the money to buy food; but the breakdown of family networks, “in which such basic skills such as cooking… are no longer passed down the generations”.

Perhaps he is right. Perhaps those people became malnourished after spending weeks bemusedly shifting their glance between a prime rib of beef and the oven, vaguely aware the two might somehow work together to produce a meal, but wholly baffled as to how.

Great minds think alike, of course, and on reading this piece – “There is something Canute-like,” wrote Carey, a man who clearly does believe long-debunked canards, “about resisting welfare reforms” – I heard an echo in the peevish tones of Iain Duncan Smith.

These brothers in Christ share more than faith in the socio-homeopathic tenet that the way to free the poor from dependency is to make them poorer. In their bespoke ways, they are our two leading recipients of welfare. Only the Anglican church at its inclusive best would have made such a perplexing interpreter of the Sermon on the Mount the Bishop of Toytown. Whether his appointment to Bath and Wells is a more or less impressive example of dunce-hat-wearer affirmative action than Duncan Smith’s to the Work and Pensions portfolio is devilishly hard to call.

My one complaint about Carey’s otherwise insightful musings is that he omitted the obvious rebuke to the hospitalised 5,000. God willing, he will correct this error in his next article by blaming the malnourished for not clubbing together for a few loaves and a couple of mackerel, and then forming a giant prayer circle to sing Kumbayah while waiting for Jesus to return to reprise his miracle and keep them off the saline drips.

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