The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines published this comment on the proceedings in the House of Commons yesterday: Language and leadership
The language used in the House of Commons last night is probably unprecedented. Drawing the name of a murdered MP into the fight was, at the very least, questionable. To describe the contribution of female MPs, pleading with the PM to moderate his language in the light of violence and death threats, as ‘humbug’ is appalling.
I am the bishop of a diocese in which Jo Cox is remembered with massive affection and in which there is great sensitivity to utilisation of her for political purposes. Her family are not just names to be traded.
Words are not neutral – they can become weapons. Words in the mouth of leaders can shape the language and behaviour of all sorts of people, and not always positively. The challenge of leadership is to lead, to behave like the adult in the room, to see the big picture, to hold the long-term perspective, and not to lose sight of the key issue…
The Church Times reported this as: Baines challenges Johnson over ‘destructive language’
Premier Radio reported on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks in the House of Lords yesterday: Justin Welby says in House of Lords that parliament’s reputation has sunk “very, very low”.
The Church Times reported thus: Divisiveness is shaking the country apart, warns Welby
The Archbishop in fact made two interventions yesterday, here are the transcripts:
Does the Minister agree that Parliament has, justifiably or not, seen its reputation sink very low over the last few months and that one of the ways of dealing with that is transparency? Regardless of how many letters there may or may not be, will he therefore undertake that the Government will be completely transparent and honest in the spirit and not merely the letter of the law about the actions they take over the next few weeks in connection with an extension?
My Lords, this debate –for want of a better word–demonstrates, I am sure the noble Lord would agree, the total division across Parliament. It is only a shadow of the immense divisions across the country, which the bishops find at every level, as they are immersed in every local community. The divisions are shaking this country apart. They are shaking us apart in all our great institutions, whether it is Parliament or the courts, which are portrayed as having launched a coup d’état–a slightly unlikely idea–and it is causing serious damage to our economy. We are hearing in our debates the incapacity of Parliament not only to make a decision but to find any way through the deadlock. The divisions are so deep that we cannot expect, I fear, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, suggested, that cross-party work could bring a decision on what we do, but can we not at least ask the Government to look for alternative means of setting a path to making a decision?
At the moment, all we hear regarding a decision is that one side says it is definitely this and the other side says that. I am used to this in an organisation that is split at every level; I am well aware of division, so I am speaking from deep familiarity. The way forward must be, as we have done on numerous occasions, to work out how to get to a decision, because the present means of handling it through Parliament is not working. We need to draw on wider experience, on mediation and other forms, so that Operation Yellowhammer and the Statement that we have heard at least form part of a clear plan to arrive at a firm decision. Does the Minister agree?
The Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, said this yesterday in response to the reading in the Lords of the Prime Minister’s statement:
My Lords, speaking on behalf of these Benches, I struggle to have to say that I was shocked as I listened to the repeat of the Statement. I could not believe that I was hearing it, from someone who knows that the nation is deeply divided and needs to find ways of working together. We need humility, repentance when necessary and an approach that listens carefully to the views of others rather than simply “Attack, attack, attack”. The Leader was not in the House earlier when my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury was here, but I encourage her to read his comments about the need for reconciliation–to find a different way forward to work together that is good for the nation. In one sense I am simply adding to the mood of the House as a whole, but I come at it from a very different point of view; I am not part of a political party and I have no axe to grind. I simply want to reflect that this was terrible. It was shocking. It is not worthy. I am sorry.
And today, Thursday. the Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, said this:
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement and for making and underlining the commitment that the Government will obey the law. May I test that a little further? It seems to me that, in the current very fractious debate, what is needed is to respect the impartiality of those institutions upholding the constitution and the law. Will the Minister counsel his colleagues to use language that is appropriate and not excessive and that reflects respect for our institutions, the taking of personal responsibility and a degree of restraint? When Prayers are said by Bishops in this House, we pray every day for the well-being of all the estates in this realm. We all have a duty to make our own contribution towards that.