The questions over Caroline Spelman MP's employment of her nanny/ secretary may have led the Today programme but the much more substantial story is the splash in today's Times: Church attacks Labour for betraying Christians.
We didn't think the Church of England's high-ups had it in them but a report to be launched on Monday - entilted Moral, Without A Compass; a clear twist of Gordon Brown's use of that term - written by senior bishops will accuse the Government of generating a spiritual crisis in Britain. In particular:
- Labour will be accused of “deep religious illiteracy”: “The Government is planning blind and has no convincing moral direction.”
- The Church complains that it has been excluded from policy discussions despite its expertise in adult education, working with the poor, criminal justice, refugee services, welfare-to-work, job creation and the rural economy: “We encountered on the part of the Government a significant lack of understanding or interest in the Church of England’s current or potential contribution in the public sphere."
- Disproportionate fretting over the Muslim community: “A conscious focus on minority communities was being achieved, to the relative exclusion of the Christian church and hundreds of other charities."
“The Conservatives’ Social Justice report is stridently antipoverty, but what is notable is that it suggests that poverty is being driven by a breakdown in the ‘social fabric’ of the UK. In contrast to Labour, the Conservatives’ report argues that renewal will come by liberating the third sector from the incessant pressure to do the Government’s work in the Government’s way.”
"Britain's churches are literally at the centre of their communities - they know intimately the problems people face, and have a deep commitment - and track record - of taking action to help them. So it is madness, as well as grossly unjust, for the Government to have this sniffy attitude towards what the churches can do for society. It is typical of the Government's patronising and bullying approach to voluntary groups more generally. They put them under constant pressure to operate in the Government's own preferred way. This is bitterly resented by voluntary groups, and especially so by the churches. In the Green Paper on Voluntary Action which David Cameron and I published this week we show how a Conservative government would back the outstanding work done by churches and other voluntary groups without expecting them to dance to the government's tune. Knowing that churches are often treated particularly badly by Government officials, our Green Paper also promises a code of practice that the Government would have to follow to protect faith-based groups from discrimination. It is also highly signficant that the Conservative Party's absolute determination to fight poverty by getting to grips with its underlying causes, finds echo in the Church's analysis. There is a growing consensus that the urgent task of transforming the lives of the poor and marginalised cannot be achieved by an arrogant assumption that government knows best, but by everyone in society working together to make a difference."
The report apparently calls for a Minister for Religion; a recommendation rightly rejected by Cranmer over on his blog. Moral, Without A Compass's 180 pages will need to be looked at carefully. Many of Britain's most effective poverty-fighting organisations are Christian and insofar as the report calls for the Church's significant welfare and educational roles to be properly recognised it is on strong ground. Insofar as the Church is seeking special favours or a major seat at the highest levels of Government, that should be resisted. The churches are best when they work at a local level and retain the distance from the state to be critics of its failures.