Norman Tebbit: The monarchy can no longer lead our Church

Unlike the Pope, our royals can no longer claim leadership of the church. Leave that to the clergy, says Norman Tebbit
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The Independent Online

The ruritanian complexities which have dogged the Prince of Wales's wedding have reminded a public not used to thinking about such things that, by law, the monarch is supreme governor of the Church of England and defender of the faith. These complexities have troubled not only Buckingham Palace but Downing Street too.

The ruritanian complexities which have dogged the Prince of Wales's wedding have reminded a public not used to thinking about such things that, by law, the monarch is supreme governor of the Church of England and defender of the faith. These complexities have troubled not only Buckingham Palace but Downing Street too.

The law officers' advice has been fickle and none too reliable, finishing up relying on the Human Rights Act to uphold the right of the heir to the throne to marry while claiming it has no effect upon the British constitution. Let us hope they are right and the lumbering juggernaut of Euro law is indeed incapable of catching our elusive and flexible constitution.

All this has poked a stick in the eye of that sleeping dog, the establishment of the Church of England. As every schoolchild used to know, that has its roots in the marital and fertility problems of King Henry VIII. Had IVF and the ability to choose the sex of babies been available to Tudor medicine, we might have remained a Roman Catholic nation, but it was not and Henry made himself and his heirs the English popes of a national holy catholic church. Perhaps it's time we asked again whether an official state religion is good for either the church or monarchy.

Our monarchy has not been absolute except for short periods. The crown was not automatically inherited by eldest sons in Saxon England and the accession of William and Mary was a parliamentary, not a genealogical matter, a flexibility which helped our monarchy to survive while others perished. Now support for both church and monarchy is weakening.

To survive as a focal point of national loyalty, the monarchy can no longer be identified solely with one church any more than one political view, for neither the Church of England nor, perhaps, any Christian doctrine commands overwhelming support. Nor is there any reason today to explicitly rule out a Catholic succession. Whether we like it or not, we are no longer as religiously homogenous as we were 50 years ago, and the monarchy would be stronger if it were not wedded exclusively to the Church of England.

And what of the church? Is it right that the prime minister - a politician - should have the final say on the appointment of its spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury? Maybe (although I don't think so) politics is better when no party has a great cause or structure of belief and debate is over spending £35bn more or less. But surely a religion has some non-negotiable beliefs.

I am comfortable in the church's Englishness. Its tradition of moderation even in the defence of virtue against sin appeals to middle England. I value the presence of the bishops in the Lords, even if they usually split on moral issues. Perhaps a mullah or two would concentrate their minds.

Certainly, I found the late chief rabbi, Lord Jacobovitz, a surer moral guide. But while the church is part of the state in a privileged position, it feels a political need to accommodate other faiths and sounds wishy-washy. I tease the bishops by threatening to bring in a Bill to give legal force to the Ten Commandments to see which way they would vote. That, they say, would be mischievous.

If the survival of the Church of England was not guaranteed, it might realise it must come out fighting for its faith. The authority of its archbishop must spring from the Bible, not a discussion at Downing Street. A church should not put its faith in princes, but in its theology.

As for the monarchy, to have the loyalty of all its subjects, it must be for those of all faiths and none. The Queen has managed that for over half a century, even as supreme governor. It would be harder for King Charles in the future.

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