Leading article: Voice in the wilderness

Friday 10 June 2011 00:00 BST

Turbulent priests have a long tradition within the Church in England. You don't have to look back as far the original one, Thomas à Becket, murdered at the whim of King Henry II. The history of church and state in far more recent times has been one of horns being locked on a far wider ranger of issues than the ones the Archbishop of Canterbury raised yesterday in the New Statesman.

Those who suggested that Rowan Williams has made the most baldly political intervention by a serving Archbishop of Canterbury have short memories. Robert Runcie often pitched himself in opposition to the Thatcher government – on everything from the Falklands War to the Tories' "lunatic" nuclear arsenal.

His successor George Carey, who dressed archiepiscopally to the right, attacked judges for their ignorance of the church and called for stricter controls on immigration to preserve "our values". Few in the Government seem to have noticed that the Archbishop also lamented the fact that the nation is "still waiting for a full and robust account of what the left would do differently". Dr Williams' intervention is as embarrassing for Ed Miliband as it is for David Cameron. It is after all Labour, rather than the church, who should be providing the Opposition.

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