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Updated: June 9, 2011 19:38 IST

Church of England leader attacks coalition policy

AP
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The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams. File photo: AP.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams. File photo: AP.

The archbishop’s attack stirred memories of sharp clashes between the church and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s.

The leader of the Church of England has accused Prime Minister David Cameron’s government of causing anxiety by rushing ahead with policies for which no one voted.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says in an article for New Statesman magazine released on Thursday that ministers in the coalition government need to understand that their plans, especially for education and health care, are arousing much fear.

The archbishop’s attack stirred memories of sharp clashes between the church and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s.

“We are being committed to radical, long—term policies for which no one voted,” Archbishop Williams wrote.

“At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context. The anxiety and anger have to do with the feeling that not enough has been exposed to proper public argument.”

The bearded archbishop, who has described himself as a “hairy lefty,” added that the government’s plans to reform welfare programmes had been accompanied by “a quiet resurgence of the seductive language of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.”

Mr. Cameron’s office responded with a short statement asserting that the government’s “clear policies on education, welfare, health and the economy are necessary to ensure we’re on the right track.”

Archbishop Williams’ blast comes just as the government has backtracked on some of its plans to shake up the National Health Service. The government has drawn criticism from the left for trebling the annual fees at universities, and for cuts in spending.

The archbishop’s salvo drew some unexpected support from Lord Norman Tebbit, who was a minister in Thatcher’s governments.

Archbishop Williams “is quite right that there are policies of the coalition for which nobody seemed to vote, and policies for which people voted which are not being carried through by the coalition,” he said. “But that is the problem of coalition.”

However, Mr. Tebbit said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio that the government was faced with a new problem, helping “families in which nobody had ever worked and in which nobody intended to work.”

Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party failed to win a majority of seats in the House of Commons in the May election so it turned to the smaller Liberal Democrats party to form a coalition, which then had to negotiate a programme for government which melded policies of both parties.

Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat member of the Cabinet, disputed Archbishop Williams’ criticism and said there had been a vigorous debate about health reforms.

“I welcome his contribution to the debate but his comments are a little odd,” Mr. Cable said.

Archbishop Williams also took a swipe at Mr. Cameron’s “Big Society” programme of encouraging more local and volunteer action, saying there was “widespread suspicion that this has been done for opportunistic or money—saving reasons.”

The archbishop also chided the opposition Labour Party, saying “we are still waiting for a full and robust account of what the left would do differently and what a left—inspired version of localism might look like.”

Archbishop Williams, the spiritual leader of 70-million Anglicans worldwide, also has a political role at home as a member of the House of Lords. The Church of England is the nation’s official faith, though church attendance has been falling for years.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said contention between church and state was nothing new.

“I seem to remember, going back to when I started in Parliament in 1983, that bishops attacking government is a pretty recurrent headline,” Mr. Blair told the BBC.

“I remember people used to criticize our policies, not just on foreign policy and Iraq but on domestic policy and reform as well,” Mr. Blair added. “It is just part of the way things work.”

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