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.

 

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.