Thinking Anglicans

Rowan Williams criticises the British government

Updated again Thursday noon

Update the New Statesman has now published the full text of the leading article: The government needs to know how afraid people are by Rowan Williams.

I can imagine a New Statesman reader looking at the contents of this issue and mentally supplying: “That’s enough coalition ministers (Ed).” After all, the NS has never exactly been a platform for the establishment to explain itself. But it seems worth encouraging the present government to clarify what it is aiming for in two or three key areas, in the hope of sparking a livelier debate about where we are going – and perhaps even to discover what the left’s big idea currently is…

other updates at the bottom

Tim Ross has a front page story in Thursday’s Telegraph, headlined Rowan Williams condemns ‘frightening’ Coalition.

Dr Rowan Williams will launch a sustained attack on the Coalition in the most outspoken political intervention by an Archbishop of Canterbury for a generation.

He warns that the public is gripped by “fear” over the Government’s reforms to education, the NHS and the benefits system and accuses David Cameron and Nick Clegg of forcing through “radical policies for which no one voted”.

Openly questioning the democratic legitimacy of the Coalition, the Archbishop dismisses the Prime Minister’s “Big Society” as a “painfully stale” slogan, and claims that it is “not enough” for ministers to blame Britain’s economic and social problems on the last Labour government.

The comments come in an article he has written as guest editor of this week’s New Statesman magazine.

His two-page critique, titled “The government needs to know how afraid people are”, is the most forthright political criticism by such a senior cleric since Robert Runcie enraged Margaret Thatcher with a series of attacks in the 1980s.

Lambeth Palace is braced for an angry response but Dr Williams, who became Archbishop of Canterbury nine years ago, is understood to believe that the moment is right for him to enter the political debate…

Damian Thompson adds that Rowan Williams returns to Old Labour sloganising as he desperately tries to distract himself from Anglican meltdown.

The New Statesman itself reports the story this way: Archbishop of Canterbury: “no one voted” for the coalition’s policies.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a remarkable attack on the coalition government, warning that it is committing the country to “radical, long-term policies for which no one voted.” In a leading article in tomorrow’s New Statesman, which he has guest-edited, Rowan Williams writes that the “anxiety and anger” felt by voters is a result of the coalition’s failure to expose its policies to “proper public argument”.

With specific reference to David Cameron’s health and education reforms, the Archbishop says that the government’s approach has created a mixture of “bafflement and indignation” among the public…


The Telegraph also has these:
Rowan Williams: timeline of Archbishop’s political views
Friction between Church and State: a history of outspoken Archbishops of Canterbury

Guardian Downing Street hits back at archbishop’s broadside

Telegraph Archbishop of Canterbury defended by Lord Tebbit

New Statesman Philip Pullman on what he owes to the Church of England


  • Joe says:


  • Muthah+ says:

    If the AbC is a member of the House of Lords, does not that in an of itself make him a political animal? And isn’t it appropriate for him to articulate his political opinion at times? I don’t find that especially scandalous.

    I do suspect he is trying to duck the issues around the Anglican Covenant that are being raised around the globe and that is not surprising either. I would try to hide from the flack of that particularly poor piece of ecclesiology, too.

    What is sad is that his rhetoric sounds more 20th cent. rather than 21st and it should give us all pause.

  • Richard says:

    Damian Thompson says that the key issue is that guest editing will take the archbishop’s mind off the problems of the Anglican Communion. Not for long. And I imagine the archbishop is capable of thinking about (at least) two things at one time.

  • Now this really is the Rowan Williams I remember – one who stands up for the poor and needy, the outcast and reviled. Why does he not then stand by his seminal writing in ‘The Body’s Grace’ – by standing up to the Conservatives of the Communion?

    Bring Back the Real Rowan Williams!

  • JCF says:

    Good Lord, Damian Thompson is tedious. He provokes in me some sympathy towards Rowan (which has been difficult to do lately).

  • MarkBrunson says:

    Irony is often the spouse of hypocrisy, especially in the public statements of overinflated men:

    “. . . committing the country to ‘radical, long-term policies for which no one voted.'”

    Well, thank goodness nobody would try that with the Anglican Communion!

  • A J Barford says:

    decapitating non-cononical cloth caps…

  • RJB says:

    I sometimes wonder how Damian Thompson would cover the ministry of Jesus on his Telegraph blog. “Son of Man resorts to Old Testament sloganising – desperately tries to distract attention from unwed mother rumours; Agree with him or not, at least you know where you stand with Caiphas!”

  • Father David says:

    Three Cheers for the “Bearded lefty”

  • Richard Ashby says:

    I just love the comments after the Damian Thompson piece, especially ‘The C of E used to condone fox hunting & disown buggery. Now it is the reverse’. If only!.

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    Oh! Come on!!
    Damian is a love! Even if he is the Queen-Empress of bitchdom.

    I am left wondering, though, if this wonderfully snide attack on Rowan just might have something to do with distracting folk from the rather disastrous launch of the Ordinariate that Damian would have us believe was his idea.

    Wales is still waiting for just one person to step forward.

    I really think JCF, Richard and RJB ought to take darling Damian more, or less, seriously.

  • Cheryl Va. says:

    Why denounce the problems of a government when his church uses its position to deprive others of civil rights (e.g. marriage) that aren’t convenient to their paradigms.

    The courage to speak out now seems to correlate with the penny dropping that the church has used is historical allegiances to deprive non-church members of basic rights.

    Better to speak on behalf of civil rights for all, not to posture on behalf of some whilst contriving to deprive others.

  • Perry Butler says:

    Very intelligent commentary re the Telegraph article on the Churchmouse blog. Damian Thompson’s piece is ridiculous even by his dismal standards…he should be more concerned with the declining fortunes of his own church in England… its ageing priesthood ( by the way ,why cant he call the C of E CLERGY rather than ministers…that was the proper nomenclature when I grew up ) and dwindling flock esp in the historic heartlands of the NE and NW. As for the Ordinariate….what will that add up to in a couple of years time…

  • Keith Kimber says:

    Pastor Rowan voices anxiety and concern from those who don’t believe they voted for a government to invent policy on the hoof and joins other critics knocking the ‘Big Society’ slogan – there’s no consensus about what it means, or what it offers that we don’t already have. Isn’t speaking out on behalf of the suffering what Pastors are meant to do?
    There was too little robust ‘pastoral’ challenge of political discourse prior to the election. Too many Pastors’ attention was caught up in playing in-house gender and sexuality games, instead of engaging with wider society in the task of making a road map to take us out of economic and social crisis. That’s how the church ends up losing authority and credibility.

  • toby forward says:

    Pot. Kettle. Hopeless.

  • Doug says:

    Damian Thompson writes:
    “You may or may not sympathise with their decision. But one thing’s for sure. When Pope Benedict is confronted by a major crisis in his Church, he doesn’t take time off to guest edit a secular magazine in the hope of impressing his mates.”

    No sir, the pope wouldn’t do that. As he’s been confronted with the sex abuse crisis, he’s consistently and forcibly told everyone about the evils of womens ordination.

  • krhull says:

    So the archbishop objects to radical long-term structural changes being foisted on an fearful people that didn’t vote for them. Doesn’t he realize that those in charge know best, and that the end justifies the coercive means?
    Anglican ‘Covenant’, anyone?

  • Mark Bennet says:

    I read the article. It was not at all like “Faith in the City”, nor did it read to me like a “remarkable attack” (or any of the other journalistic hyperbole). I read Churchmouse commentary, and thought it was just about right.

  • Spirit of Vatican II says:

    He put into words what many feel, not only in Britain. This is a stunningly lucid intervention, and unanswerable. The Government are suddenly in defensive mode, and the witches’ sabbath over in Damianland tells its own story.

  • Nat says:

    I am no great fan of Dr. Williams, but Andrew Brown has it about right, it seems to me, in today’s Guardian:

    That one disagrees with the ABC on many issues does not, should not distract from hearing what he has to say carefully and thoughtfully; we are – I certainly am! – too ready not to hear him,and to jump on the bandwagon of refuting him. But this time, Brown has it right.

  • It is ever so much easier to complain about the ill-kempt common than to mow one’s own lawn.

  • adeacon says:

    Damian Thompson’s ‘Anglican meltdown’ is more like a little odorous fizzy around the edges. The main generator of prayer and sacrament in this realm is working just fine!

  • Robert ian Williams says:

    Hurrah for Rowan’s boldness exposing the sham of the Big Society. He knows the cons have no desire to distestablish his he has nothing to lose.

  • Savi Hensman says:

    Though Rowan W’s record as ABC has been less than impressive in some ways, it is good he is drawing attention to the fear that the Coalition’s policies have triggered among the most vulnerable. He deserves support on this issue for the sake of those who are most affected by the government’s draconian policies.

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