Conservative Diary

« The Archbishop of Canterbury is no friend of the poor | Main | David Cameron emphasises the moral justice of the Coalition's policies in his response to the Archbishop of Canterbury »

If Lambeth Palace calls for a ceasefire, Downing Street's got no-one to negotiate it

by Paul Goodman

David Cameron's vengeful streak co-exists with a relaxed disposition.  On the one hand, the frontbenchers who crossed him in opposition are now backbenchers (think Patrick Mercer, for example).  On the other, he doesn't get too worked up about whatever the Daily Mail's editorial thunderbolt-of-the-day or Vince Cable's verbal atrocity-of-the-hour happens to be.  So although he'll be very alert to the dangers of Rowan Williams's rambling arabesques in the New Statesman - when will the Archbishop volunteer his services to the Spectator, by the way?* - my best guess is that he'll be less angry with what was in Williams's remarks than how they were released.

For as Tim reported earlier this morning, the Archbishop said what he said without tipping off Downing Street.  No-one picked up the phone to Number 10 yesterday evening to say: "Look, guys.  You know that Rowan doesn't agree with the Government about everything.  That's life.  He's just given an interview to the New Statesman slagging you off, and the Telegraph has the story.  That's life, too.  But it's only fair to give you notice, since that we've got to work together.  So no hard feelings, ok?"  Downing Street would probably then view the interview - and the hostilities that must follow - as a limited military engagement.  In their absence, it would be entitled to view the Archbishop's words as a declaration of war.

Which suits neither party.  Cameron doesn't want to face a new Leader of the Opposition - and let's face it, Williams could scarcely be less effective than Miliband.  The Party's put a lot of effort into gaining if not the support then at least the acquiescence of the churches.  And while Williams may welcome being martyred by angry tabloids and Tory bloggers, other senior Church figures will question if not his comments then at least their timing and venue.  To choose the New Statesmen for them is to line up openly with the left, and plenty of Christians who don't warm to Cameron will think this a big blunder.  Today, both Downing Street and Lambeth Palace have an incentive to declare a ceasefire.

But who would negotiate it?  As I've pointed out before, Downing Street hasn't appointed anyone to manage its relations with the faith communities.  It's relying either on politicians who aren't in Number 10 (such as Eric Pickles at CLG, which leads on faith-related matters) or civil servants who are.  Relax: I'm not about to recommend another overseer, to do the job that Lord Carlile should do in relation to Prevent.  There are plenty of Conservative MPs who could cover.  The necessary person should probably be somone who talks the faith communities' language, and this would suggest a Christian such as Nicola Blackwood or David Burrowes or Nicky Morgan or Gary Streeter...well, you get the idea.  There's no shortage of candidates.

* I put this question to Fraser Nelson.  Read his four-word reply here.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.