Let us now sing a new hymn

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The Independent Online
"When Labour gets back into power," says Hugo Kneestall, "we shall be looking carefully at all aspects of the Church of England, including hymns. And if we don't like what we see, we shall make changes. Big changes."

Hugo Kneestall is the Labour Shadow Archbishop of Canterbury. ( His colleagues sometimes call him the Left Reverend instead of the Right Reverend.) He is poised to take over when Labour is voted in at the next election. And he is going to make changes at all levels, make no mistake about that.

"Take, for example, the hymn there was all the fuss about last week, the "All Things Bright and Beautiful" one. The Bishop said that he thought the last verse was wicked, as it suggested that God was responsible for social divisions. Well, I am inclined to go along with him. There is no point in blaming God for the class system in Britain. We know where the blame for social inequality lies. We all know that the Tories, specifically Margaret Thatcher, are responsible.

"But that is not the verse I object to. Do you know which verse in that hymn really gets my goat?"

No, we do not. Which verse particularly gets his goat?

"The first one. All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, dah di dah di dah di dah, the Lord God made them all."

Is it so very controversial to say that God made things? Does the Shadow Archbishop of Canterbury not think that God made them all, then?

"Certainly I do. But I also think that if God made little lambs and nice little birds, and all other things bright and beautiful, he also made all things dark and ugly. God made microbes and slugs and bacteria and all other less desirable organisms. But do we hear about them in the hymn? I do not think we do. I think that what we have in the hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" is another Tory cover-up. Everything's bright and beautiful. There is no sleaze in nature. That's the Tory message. Well, baloney!"

And what does Hugo Kneestall intend to do about it when Labour come to power? How does he intend to expose the Sleaze-in-Nature-Tory-Cover- Up? "We shall be looking at these things more closely when we have the power to do something about them," he prevaricates. "But we must make it our chief priority to take the Church of England away from the fat cats and give it back to the people."

Oh, come off it, Hugo. The Church has always belonged to the fat cats. In what sense has the Church of England ever belonged to the people?

"Well, in previous times, surely," says Hugo, startled. "Back when there was a simple bond between the man in the street and his place of worship."

Baloney, Hugo. There never was such a time. The Church of England has always been a self-appointed quango, giving jobs to the boys, filling the coffers, giving livings to younger sons, stage-managing coronations and doing other menial jobs for the monarch. It was never organised for the man in the street. He was treated as a dumb consumer by the C of E. That's why so many of them became Nonconformist and set up their own churches.

"Yes, I suppose," says Hugo, "there is something in that ..."

In fact, Hugo, you could say that it was only in the 1980s that the Church became, for the first time, the champion of the poor. Do you remember how regularly archbishops used to step out of line and blame Thatcherite policies for the creation of poverty and crime? And how Thatcher and various Tory MPs used to blow a gasket and tell the Church to look after souls and leave politics to the politicians? Surely any Church which annoyed Margaret Thatcher must have something going for it!

"There is something in that," says Hugo. "But, look ..."

And wouldn't you also say, Hugo, that in recent years the Church of England has been trying to leave behind its outmoded baggage? To throw off old- fashioned beliefs, even beliefs that were once thought central to the Church? In exactly the same way as the Labour Party has tried to jettison its own outmoded, and vote-losing, paraphernalia? So wouldn't you say that the Church of England is going down the same path as the Labour Party, and it ill behoves the Shadow Archbishop of Canterbury to criticise his official counterpart?

"It is far too early to say," says the Shadow Archbishop. "But there are very real problems here, and we must address them as soon as possible. I think what we have to target here is ..."

When a politician starts talking gobbledygook, it is time to bring an interview to a swift close.