Leading Article: The end is not yet nigh, Your Grace

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The Independent Online
THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury's cri de coeur on the state of Britain is a tale of woe. It would leave Abraham struggling for signs of hope. In a yet-to-be published interview, Dr Carey describes a country that has diminished into insignificance. The nation is fragmented by class divisions, the Empire has disappeared along with much of the armed forces, the Commonwealth is fairly meaningless, while Europe has been only feebly embraced by Britain's lost souls. O tempora] O mores]

Dr Carey's words display an almost Old Testament anguish at a nation's demise. In tone, they combine typically British self-deprecation with doleful warnings of the sandwich board that we are all doomed. Dr Carey ought not to be so down-hearted. Nor should he allow his message to be so short of Christian optimism. The end is not yet nigh for Britain.

The apocalyptic character of the archbishop's views, whatever the merits of his particular criticisms, is unhelpful. True, the education system, at least at secondary level, is inadequate, but that has been a common complaint for more than a century. Yes, divisions are increasing between rich and poor. Britain is also experiencing a long-standing identity crisis and occasionally flounders as it seeks a new role in the world. But to write the country off, as Dr Carey does, 'as an ordinary little nation' is not only destructive but inaccurate. This is an invitation to despair in which are sown the seeds of right-wing revanchism that so plague modern states.

Britain remains engaged with the international community to an extent virtually unequalled by other countries, be it in the United Nations, Nato or the Group of Seven. To say that this country is 'very lonely' seems more to reflect a depressed outlook than the reality of Britain's condition. Its constructive role in helping to resolve the Bosnian conflict demonstrates that Britain has much to offer the outside world. Traditions of liberalism, tolerance and open-mindedness - though challenged from some quarters - remain robust and deserve to be a source of pride and national self-confidence.

Cynics might say to Dr Carey: 'Physician, heal thyself' and protest that the archbishop's concerns about disunity and irrelevance could be more usefully applied to the Church of England. But this attitude unfairly belittles an often refreshing voice in British life. Given his unique ecclesiastical position, Dr Carey should set out in strong terms his views about the state of the nation. However, he must beware that biblical doom and gloom do not cloud his vision and depress rather than inspire his people.