Thinking Anglicans

Tony Blair And The Bishopric Of Liverpool

In 1997 Prime Minister Tony Blair vetoed the Church of England’s nominee for the Bishopric of Liverpool. The incident has largely faded from the public consciousness, but thanks to documents inadvertently released by the Cabinet Office Jason Loch can now show us some of the behind-the-scenes drama of this remarkable event. Read it here: Tony Blair And The Bishopric Of Liverpool.

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Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
16 days ago

The secrecy reminds me, amusingly, of ‘The Bishop’s Gambit’ episode in ‘Yes, Prime Minister’:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5t4iz7

Paul
Paul
15 days ago

Were either of the candidates Modernists? Did they believe in God?

Bill Broadhead
Bill Broadhead
16 days ago

I was always led to believe that John Holdroyd was on the same page as Carey, so this is a good corrective to that perception. In any case, this account begs the question: who was being more political here, Holdroyd, Blair or Carey? And why was Carey getting so involved in an episcopal appointment outside of his own Province? You can see from where Justin Welby gets his faux-papal ideas. All said, thank God for the intervention of Downing Street on this one. The original two candidates were hardly at the top of the ‘A’ list.   But how remarkable… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
16 days ago
Reply to  Bill Broadhead

BB, that’s the problem with secrecy and lack of transparency – we don’t know. We don’t even know if George Carey actually believed personally in the position he took, or whether he was ‘advised’ by his hidden, powerful ‘advisers’ to do so.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
15 days ago
Reply to  Bill Broadhead

How would George Carey have known that political influence landed him at Lambeth? I doubt he would have been told.
 
As for Habgood, I served in York Diocese during his tenure there and didn’t find him at all impressive. Too remote and detached to be a good diocesan. He didn’t have the common touch, either, and the ABC needs a bit of that.

Bill Broadhead
Bill Broadhead
15 days ago
Reply to  Janet Fife

To be fair, Janet, anyone with an ounce of intelligence knew what was going on in Downing Street when it came to the appointment of the AbC in 1990. Carey should have got on the phone to Habgood and said ‘we both know what she’s playing at: I’ll turn it down, then she’ll have to give it to you.’ But, as they say, the rest is history.   Had that happened, common touch or not, I doubt we would have been in the situation we were over Peter Ball, let alone the nonsense at the 1998 Lambeth Conference; and Mrs… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
15 days ago
Reply to  Bill Broadhead

BB. don’t let your obvious prejudice against George Carey taint your obvious integrity.

Andrew
Andrew
15 days ago
Reply to  Bill Broadhead

It’s interesting to note that David Jenkins was a Thatcher appointment (in 1984) – both of Methodist stock – though he wrote extensively against the foundations of market economics of Thatcher, Major and Blair, and was a constant thorn in their side. Carey’s appointment was only six months before Thatcher was forced out of office, and his enthronement after Major had succeeded her.

peter kettle
peter kettle
14 days ago
Reply to  Andrew

‘after Major had succeeded her’ – and I think that his first appointment was Jim Thompson (to succeed Carey) at B&W – a man whose name, I think, was always submitted as one of the two in Thatcher’s time. if you wanted the other one to get appointed, so little did she care for him! Only hearsay, but in the absence of the facts …..

Charles Read
Charles Read
14 days ago
Reply to  Bill Broadhead

Would she not then have just asked for more names so she could avoid recommending Habgood?

Andrew Godsall
Andrew Godsall
13 days ago
Reply to  Charles Read

An old friend and colleague who worked as a journalist in Church House comms at the time told me just before he died that the intention of putting those two names to Downing Street was expressly that she would then be forced to ask for two more names. For whatever reason, she chose not to do so.

Father David
Father David
16 days ago

Hardly a “constitutional crisis” not even a “miniature” one, more a bit of a storm in an ecclesiastical tea cup. Mr. Blair was entirely within his rights to reject both original candidates and ask for new names to be presented. Anyway, I always thought it was Cherie (the power behind the throne) who insisted on a decent Anglican bishop for her home diocese of Liverpool and so James Jones was appointed in succession to David Sheppard? Didn’t Bishop Jones have to be persuaded to leave Hull in order to take up the appointment at Liverpool?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
15 days ago
Reply to  Father David

Slightly off track, Father David, Cherie Blair was RC and husband Tony became one (with some gentle admonition from Cardinal Hume for irregularities before formal reception), so it would be a very loose interpretation to suggest that Liverpool Anglican was her home diocese.

Father David
Father David
15 days ago

I’m quite aware that Mrs. Blair is a Roman Catholic as is her husband who crossed the Tiber once he had left Number 10. Perhaps you would be happier with Cherie’s home city?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
15 days ago
Reply to  Father David

Gracious. No offence was intended. A harmless comment, surely, specifically said to be slightly off track. However, I will add that I never seem to get serious responses to serious doctrinal or legal comments on TA, in fact mostly no response at all on such topics. I promise to be more sparing in future.

David Lamming
David Lamming
15 days ago
Reply to  Father David

To use the colloquial aphorism (but without intending to express any opinion), in preferring James (Christian name) over James (surname), Liverpool’s loss was Norwich’s gain. (In the same way that in 1991 Gloucester’s loss was Manchester’s gain.)

Andrew
Andrew
16 days ago

Callaghan was right, Brown wrong. Given their prominence in our national life – as religious and quasi-political leaders – there ought to be some prerogative given to the prime minister of the day in appointing diocesan bishoprics. His or her political mandate broadly reflects the public mood, and, in any case, a tenure on the bench tends to be longer than one in Downing Street.   Warlock and Sheppard were a hard act to follow at Liverpool, a city which thrives on two integrities, two cathedrals and two football teams. Blair’s judgement in holding out for Jones was justified, whose… Read more »

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
15 days ago
Reply to  Andrew

Would you really want Boris Johnson appointing bishops? I wonder who the any Brexit-supporting Conservative-voting candidates would be.

Charles Read
Charles Read
14 days ago
Reply to  Sam Jones

Questions were asked at not-the – General Synod last week about why there were no Brexit supporting bishops ‘for balance’.

Andrew
Andrew
13 days ago
Reply to  Charles Read

I don’t suppose it matters whether bishops voted Remain or Leave in 2016, or what they may have said since, or even whether they have fully worked-out opinions on the matter or not. The UK has left the EU and we are set on a new course. But there are some parallels between ecclesiology/ecumenism and diplomatic/trading relations which could be drawn on.   Does ultimate authority rest with the councils of Rome, or with the tricameral synods of the Church of England, or the Lambeth conferences? The country decided that the EU Commission in Brussels should return authority for lawmaking… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
16 days ago

It has been known for some years that Holroyd had advised Blair to reject both names for an unmentioned see, as reported in The Times (21 January 2015)):   “From finding elite civil servants [as first civil service commissioner], [Holroyd] moved on to become appointments secretary at Downing Street working closely alongside John Major and Tony Blair on the appointment of clergy, senior academics or poets laureate. As Blair revealed at Holroyd’s farewell party, he was not afraid to challenge the establishment, advising him to reject both names which had been put forward for a diocesan bishopric, to the surprise… Read more »

David Lamming
David Lamming
15 days ago

This was not the first occasion when the Prime Minister’s Appointments’ Secretary influenced an episcopal appointment decision.   During his evidence to the IICSA ‘Peter Ball case study’ hearing on 24 July 2018 Lord Carey was asked questions about a memo/letter dated 25 October 1991 written by the then PM’s Appointments’ Secretary, Robin Catford, to John Major relating to the vacancy in the see of Gloucester. The memo (only released by the Cabinet Office a week earlier: see IICSA transcript, 24.7.2018, pages 37/21 to 38/4) revealed that Catford was ‘steering’ the Prime Minister to favour the second choice candidate of… Read more »

Marian Birch
Marian Birch
15 days ago

Having been treated by Gavin Reid in a way that I can only describe as ‘abusive’ (I choose the word deliberately) when I was a clergy wife in Kent in the 1990s I would entirely agree with the assessment that he was unfitted and incompetent to be a diocesan bishop. I am no great fan of Tony Blair – but he got that one right!

Kate
Kate
15 days ago

Not only was discernment not apparently a dominant feature of these appointments but nobody in the comments finds that odd. Is discernment now in the Church of England, a fiction?

Dominic Barrington
Dominic Barrington
15 days ago
Reply to  Kate

I’m not sure I see the basis for this comment. I think Holdroyd and Blair (and Hope) were all being quite seriously discerning. And in response to an earlier comment about why Carey was so concerned about this – the answer to this surely lies in the fact that Gavin Reid was one of his own suffragans in Canterbury.

Andrew
Andrew
15 days ago

I agree, Dominic.
 
Advisers advise, ministers decide, so the saying goes. Blair’s discernment over this appointment is in stark contrast to Major’s insufficient probing of his adviser’s advice and slapdash rubber-stamping of Ball, as noted by David Lamming above.

Richard W. Symonds
Richard W. Symonds
15 days ago
Reply to  Kate

Discernment is an aspiration Kate, like world peace. And both will remain only aspirations until the present power structures – and human nature working within it – are transformed.

SimonW
SimonW
15 days ago

Well John Holroyd probably got that right didn’t he? Jones certainly grew into the role and thrived at Liverpool, arguably a worthy successor to David Sheppard. And Holroyd’s old mate James went down well at Norwich didn’t he? Am not sure how Cassidy’s time at Southwell and Nottingham has been assessed.

Sam Jones
Sam Jones
15 days ago

Could something similar happen today or is the first name always chosen.
 
It looks like the key issues were i) indecisive CNC vote, ii) lack of support from the Archbishop of York and iii) the role of the Prime Minister’s appointments secretary
 
The CNC vote was 7-5 whereas now a 2/3 majority is required, so I would think it would be difficult to reject a clear recommendation
 

Father David
Father David
14 days ago
Reply to  Peter Owen

Presumably Philip North was the first name when last there was a vacancy at Sheffield. Sadly that wasn’t to be so presumably Pete Wilcox name was second and he was successfully appointed.
It seems a long time ago since the name of his suffragan was announced but to date no consecration has taken place of the Bishop of Doncaster.

David Lamming
David Lamming
14 days ago
Reply to  Sam Jones

My understanding is that a 2/3rds majority of the CNC (effectively at least 10 out of the 14 voting members) is required for any name to go forward. If/once the CNC has a whittled the short-listed candidates down to the last two then, if each has the necessary 2/3rds majority support, only a simple majority is required to decide the name to be submitted to the Prime Minister, the other being the reserve.

Toby Forward
Toby Forward
14 days ago

There was a story in the Diocese of Southwark that when Bishop Stockwood appointed suffragans he submitted the two names to the PM as required. The first name was his choice for the post. He got the second name by asking his chaplain to telephone the matron of St Barnabas’ Home for the Clergy and ask for the name of the oldest resident. This was the person who was given as the alternative. If anyone knows this not to be true, please don’t tell me. I so much want to believe it.

Dominic Barrington
Dominic Barrington
14 days ago
Reply to  Toby Forward

I’m not sure this process applied to suffragans anyway….?

Father David
Father David
14 days ago
Reply to  Toby Forward

And the funny thing is – the chap from St. Barnabas Home for the Clergy was appointed!

Ian
Ian
13 days ago
Reply to  Toby Forward

I’m not going to tell you are wrong Toby, and I’m not going to tell you that there isn’t a Father Christmas either.

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