Leading article: Salutary seasonal greetings

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The Independent Online

If the Queen was, forgiveably, in retrospective mood, it was pleasing to hear some unusually up-to-date and pertinent sentiments from our Church leaders this season. And it was doubly pleasing that both Anglican and Roman Catholic Archbishops used the authority of their respective pulpits to challenge an easy popular consensus and chose to risk unpopularity by so doing.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, spoke with passion and humanity about immigration and deplored the cold comfort that too often awaits newcomers in Britain, not just at the outset, but months, even years after they have ceased to be new arrivals. Speaking not a 15-minute walk from the train and bus stations where many new migrants arrive, in a part of the capital where migrants' first experience of Britain is too often a turned back from the natives, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was taking on a local, as well as a national, mood.

More to the point, however, he was also taking on a government and a political establishment that has sensed votes in a national mood that has hardened towards immigration, and has been scurrilously egged on by sections of the popular press.

At a time of year when Britain can seem especially closed commerce shut down, no public transport, and the majority of people embraced into family gatherings behind their own front doors Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor offered some uncomfortable truths.

"What concerns me at the moment," he said, "is our attitude as a nation to these many immigrants." Most come to our country "because they wish to have a better life and work so as to provide for their families". They had good reasons for wanting to enter Britain and they needed to be welcomed. Instead, they "simply feel excluded because they are outsiders".

The Archbishop was right on every count he raised. It was salutary to hear such plain speaking from a national figure, intruding as it did on the prevailing mood of complacent goodwill. We can only regret that so few political leaders have the courage and integrity to do the same. So busy do they seem to be, devising new ways of discouraging would-be migrants and deporting those already here, that they neglect to mention either the many benefits the new workers bring to Britain or the shabby way they may be treated by harsh officialdom or dubious landlords and employers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, for his part, interjected into a typically erudite Christmas sermon a call for more attention to be paid to the environment and a sharp warning about the way in which human greed distorts and threatens the fragile balance of the Earth. Again, he was right. Again, he was making the sort of outspoken appeal heard all too infrequently from our politicians. This Christmas, those in secular power could have learnt much from paying attention in church.