Lord Carey loses his pulpit

Among the few people mourning the sudden demise of the News of the World may well be the former Arch

For some years now, Lord Carey has taken advantage of the tabloid's distinguished columns to lament the moral decline of society, to warn readers of the threat posed by immigration and Islam, to bemoan the persecution of Christians by bureaucratic multiculturalists, to have the occasional dig at the Pope and subtly to undermine his successor Rowan Williams.

Who could forget, for example, his scandalised reaction to the mauling the Screws received at the hands of Max Mosley and Mr Justice Eady? According to Carey, the paper was absolutely right to expose Mosley's predilection for sadomasochistic sex games to the public gaze. In words that could almost have been ghost-written by Colin Myler, the archbishop feared that Eady's ruling would give carte blanche to depraved perverts everywhere.

It was "bad enough", thought Carey, that "without public debate or democratic scrutiny the courts have created a wholly new privacy law". More seriously from his point of view ("as a Christian leader") it was "deeply sad that public morality is the second victim of this legal judgement". Henceforth, he declared, "unspeakable and indecent behaviour, whether in public or in private" would no longer be considered "significant".

Carey seemed to have missed that the whole point of that ruling was that Mosley's privacy had been violated. His behaviour only became public courtesy of the newspaper in which he was writing. To Carey, though, there's no distinction between private and public morality. To think otherwise -- to imagine that what adults get up to in private should be their own business -- represented "a bleak, deeply-flawed "anything goes" philosophy", which was "dangerous and socially undermining, devoid of the basic, decent moral standards that form the very fabric of our society".

The same decent moral standards that kept the News of the World going for 168 years, I suppose.

Carey wasn't finished with Mosley. In March 2009, he wrote complaining at Gordon Brown's refusal to apologise for the financial crisis -- by contrast with David Cameron, who had "accepted the blame for his party's failure to warn of looming economic danger." Failure to apologise, he argued, was "a sign of a relationship in trouble." A particulary glaring example, he thought, was Mosley's appearance at the House of Commons Select Committee hearing into privacy law. The MPs had "feebly conceded the moral high ground and chuckled at his jokes." Not one had drawn attention to his "moral depravity" and "appalling behaviour". But then, he implied, politicians don't understand the concept of apology.

In October 2009, Carey chose Nick Griffin's infamous appearance on Question Time as an appropriate peg to hang an outspoken attack on the government's immigration policies. He denounced the BNP leader as "a squalid racist" who "must not be allowed to hijack one of the world's great religions" (a strange way for an archbishop to describe his own faith). But he then went on to put much of the blame for Griffin's prominence on the "cowardly failure of successive governments to address our open borders".

Carey went on to demand "clear caps on population growth" and an abandonment of "the discredited policy of multiculturalism". " Make no mistake about it," he thundered, "immigration MUST be a major item on next year's General Election agenda."

Of course, the suggestion that BNP's success (such as it is) can be attributed to mass immigration was scarcely new. Nor the idea that politicians have paid insufficient heed to voters' views on the subject. But it was striking that Carey devoted more of his piece to an assault on government policy than to his attack on Griffin for "hijacking" Christianity, which was rather perfunctory.

There was so much more that he might have said. He might have drawn attention to the great contribution made to his own church by immigrants such as the present archbishop of York John Sentamu, or (someone more of the Carey persuasion) Michael Nazir-Ali, who was bishop of Rochester at the time. He might have extolled the legacy of Martin Luther King, or explained how Christianity had been distorted in the past by the Ku Klux Klan and the architects of Apartheid. He might have reminded readers of Christ's teaching of "love thy neighbour", or mentioned the little-known fact that one of the earliest recorded archbishops of Canterbury was an African. He might, in short, have explained why he thought Nick Griffin was wrong to use the Christian history of Britain in his propaganda. Instead he chose to grouse about immigration. Bizarre.

Carey's career as a kind of ecclesiastical Littlejohn has continued this year. April saw him return to the theme of overpopulation as he called for "a government with a united, national sense of purpose... which is sadly and tragically lacking." Acknowledging that "Jesus himself was a refugee after his birth and his family received hospitality in Egypt", he nevertheless stressed that "there are limits".

"Last year I visited the Middle East, and when I returned I saw more women wearing burkhas in London than I saw in Jerusalem," he complained.

Carey did, however, have some words of praise for David Cameron's tough-talking, which he contrasted with Vince Cable's "defiant act of rebellion" in opposing a blanket cap on immigration. The "real extremists in our midst", he wrote, were not the BNP but "those advocating open borders and uncontrolled migration."

Just last month, Carey used his News of the World pulpit to denounce the "appalling world of bungs and favours" in international football. "As a lifelong lover of the game," he wrote, "I can't believe how low it has sunk. FIFA is mired in financial skulduggery with a stink from the top that affects every layer of the game." It was a "sleazy body" that "must be dragged into the open air."

If he ever had similar thoughts about the sleazy newspaper that helped him extend his own public career for so many years, he kept them to himself.

 

Belief, disbelief and beyond belief
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Leader: Labour and the Brexit debacle

The party appears to favour having its cake and eating it – yet the dilemma is not insuperable.

In the year since a narrow majority of people voted to leave the European Union, the Brexit project has not aged well. Theresa May’s appeal to the electorate to “strengthen” her hand in negotiations was humiliatingly rejected in the general election. Having repeatedly warned of a “coalition of chaos” encompassing ­Labour and the Scottish National Party, the Prime Minister has been forced to strike a panicked parliamentary deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. European leaders have been left bewildered by events in the United Kingdom.

The Brexiteers, who won the referendum on a fraudulent prospectus, have struggled to cope with the burden of responsibility. In the manner of Dr Pangloss, they maintain that the UK will flourish outside the EU and that those who suggest otherwise are too pessimistic, or even unpatriotic. Yet wishful thinking is not a strategy. Though the immediate recession forecast by the Treasury has been avoided, the cost of Brexit is already being borne in squeezed living standards (owing to the pound’s depreciation) and delayed investment decisions.

At the same time, far from disintegrating as the most ardent Leavers predicted, the EU is recovering, with a revival of the Franco-German axis under Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Donald Trump’s antics have dispelled the illusion that “the Anglosphere” can function as an alternative to the bloc. Britain has embarked on the great task of withdrawal at a time of profound national and global instability.

For all this, the Brexiteers retain an indisputable mandate. What the Brexiteers have no mandate for is their model of withdrawal. And there is a nascent majority in the House of Commons for a “soft” exit. Roughly two-thirds of voters remain supportive of Brexit but they have no desire to harm the economy in the process. A recent YouGov survey found that 58 per cent believe Britain should trade freely with the EU, even at the cost of continued free movement into Britain.

In these circumstances, Labour has profited from ambiguity. Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to uphold the referendum result and to end free movement won the respect of Leavers in the election. His pro-migration rhetoric and promise of a “jobs-first” Brexit impressed Remainers, who were in the mood to give the Tories a bloody nose. Although Labour fell 64 seats short of a majority, it partly spanned a divide that had been considered unbridgeable.

Mr Corbyn’s desire to avoid the cross-party Brexit commission proposed by some commentators and MPs is understandable. As Ed Smith observes on page 22, Brexit is a metaphorical “plague” that contaminates all those who touch it, claiming one Conservative prime minister and fatally infecting another. The Tories, who inflicted an unnecessary EU referendum on the UK, must not redistribute the blame.

As the Brexit negotiations progress, however, Labour cannot maintain its opacity. While vowing to retain “the benefits of the single market and the customs union”, it has also pledged to “end” freedom of movement. Like the risible ­Boris Johnson, Labour appears to favour having its cake and eating it. Yet the dilemma is not insuperable.

The logical extension of the party’s vow to give the economy priority over immigration control is to support continued single-market membership. This is the most practical and reliable means of ensuring that Britain’s dominant services sector retains the access it requires. Membership of the customs union would ensure the same for manufacturers. Economic retreat from the EU, which accounts for 44 per cent of all UK exports, would unavoidably reduce growth and living standards.

Such an arrangement need not entail continued free movement, however. Under existing EU rules (not applied by the UK), immigrants resident for longer than three months must prove that they are working (employed or self-employed) or a registered student, or have “sufficient resources” to support themselves and not be “a burden on the benefits system”.

It falls to Labour, as a reinvigorated and increasingly popular opposition, to chart an alternative to the ideological Brexiteers on the Tory benches as well as in the virulent right-wing press. Is Mr Corbyn a covert Brexiteer? It does not really matter. What matters is that he leads a party of committed Europeans who have no wish to see Britain humiliated, its influence in the world reduced, and its economy damaged by the folly of the Brexit debacle. 

This article first appeared in the 29 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit plague

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