The Church of England’s Parliamentary Team have taken to joking on Twitter about the various ways in which they subvert British democracy. But there’s nothing funny about these modern-day theocrats
Imagine if a private sector firm had twenty six seats in the upper house of the British Parliament and possessed the ability to debate bills, lobby government ministers and even vote on Acts of Parliament – all without receiving a single vote from anyone in the United Kingdom. That organisation would be counting its undeserved blessings, and doing its best to keep a low profile and avoid drawing attention to their wildly over-privileged position.
If the RMT possessed nearly thirty votes in Parliament and used them to thwart key transport bills or trade union legislation, there would rightly be an uproar. If Tesco had their own parliamentary caucus who voted against minimum wage increases and greater employee protection rights, people would march on Westminster with burning torches to evict the voice of the Evil Corporations. And yet when the Church of England enjoys the exact same privilege – twenty six Lords Spiritual who sit in the House of Lords and exert influence over our democracy in the name of the established church – there is a deafening silence.
Well not quite. The one group of people making any kind of noise about this state of affairs are the Church of England’s own Parliamentary Team, who thought that it would be in great taste to post this cartoon on their official Twitter feed today:
Far from being humble (let alone ashamed) about the undeservedly exalted place that their dwindling church holds in our constitution and our democracy, the Church of England Parliamentary Team seem to believe that this is a suitable topic for humour, something to joke about with their followers.
Thus we see bishops creating a rota to determine when each of them will take turns sitting in the House of Lords, bishops walking through the division lobby when it’s time to vote on a bill, and a particularly fearsome bishop quite literally strong-arming a hapless government minister to make him do the Church’s bidding.
Ha ha ha. Hilarious.
And that’s not all. The churchstate Twitter feed is an endless parade of interventions (or subversions, depending on how you view it) in our democracy, all made by people who nobody elected and who represent an organisation which attracts barely the same number of people who go to watch a Premier League football match every weekend.
Here they are retweeting a Huffington post story about the Church’s intervention in the recent tax credits debate (the bishop attempts to justify himself here):
And here’s their running commentary on the debate, showing exactly what they got up to:
How apt their Twitter name “churchstate” is. Two nouns running together with no gap between them. It sums up our current constitutional settlement perfectly – no separation between “church” and “state”.
Consider: UKIP won nearly four million votes at the 2015 general election back in May, thirteen percent of the total votes cast, and yet they have a grand total of three peers sitting in the House of Lords. The Green Party have just one, to the Church of England’s twenty-six. How is this fair? How is this just? And where is the chorus of protest from the Lords Spiritual, insisting that David Cameron immediately appoint more UKIP peers to better reflect the millions of people who voted for that party?
Naturally there are no such protests. The Church of England does not care about democracy. If they did, they would strive to increase democracy in Britain in any way that they can, speaking up for all those whose voices are not properly heard. But of course UKIP represent “bad” ideas and the wrong type of voter, and so the Lords Spiritual are quite happy to sit there in silence while four million of their fellow British citizens are disenfranchised, yet immediately leap to their feet in protest when tax credit changes threaten to harm their favoured constituency (people on welfare).
This isn’t post-revolutionary Iran, and nor is it Wolf Hall era England. This is the United Kingdom, well into the twenty-first century, and yet still we have unelected clerics sitting in our Parliament by ancient right, voting on bills and subverting our democracy every single day. We are a country of smartphones, smart TVs, nuclear power and genetic engineering, and yet we allow the representatives of one privileged religion (not even the most popular denomination of Christianity in Britain) to play an outsized role in nearly every aspect of our national life.
I myself am a Roman Catholic Christian, but I would no sooner see the Archbishop of Westminster helping to make our nation’s laws than I would an unelected Rabbi or Imam. My religion is something personal to me and any people with whom I may choose to directly share it. Any religious values of mine are certainly nothing to be imposed on the rest of the country by a representative of my faith who hasn’t the courage to stand for election and earn their own democratic mandate.
It simply isn’t good enough, not in this day and age. Most of the bishops happen to mean well, most of the time. But that is no excuse for their ongoing, anachronistic presence. The good intentions of the Bishop of Portsmouth are not enough to excuse the unconscionable fact that he felt himself entitled to pontificate on fiscal policy from the red benches, before offering his own amendment to a government bill. This is doubly outrageous – outrageous that it happened, and outrageous that we all smile and nod as though it were perfectly acceptable.
That the Church of England’s Parliamentary Team find their uniquely privileged status something to alternately boast and joke about reveals a sickness at the heart of the British establishment, one which can only ever be purged by a full constitutional convention of the United Kingdom, sweeping away the Lords Spiritual, life peers and other anachronisms once and for all, and creating a new, democratically elected upper house in their place.
At long last, the time has come to rise up and forcibly sever the link between our democratic institutions and the state church. For the good of all parties, it is time to disestablish the Church of England.
Top Image: Abbreviated cartoon by Dave Walker
Bottom Image: archbishopofcanterbury.org
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