Strange death of Methodist England

The announcement by the President of the Methodist Conference, Rev David Gamble, that he would be pr

Methodism played an invaluable role in the development of Britain's political conscience, and was crucial to the growth of both the Liberal and the Labour parties in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I have recalled before (as have others) Harold Wilson's view that British socialism owed more to Methodism than to Karl Marx.

And the connection with the politics of the left still exists -- for instance, in the case of the veteran MP Sir Alan Beith, a former deputy leader of the old Liberal Party and of the Liberal Democrats, who is also a Methodist lay preacher.

But only just. For I'm afraid I don't quite believe Rev Gamble's explanation to the Anglican General Synod: "We are prepared to go out of existence not because we are declining or failing in mission, but for the sake of mission."

The numbers speak for themselves. According to a Telegraph report, there are 265,000 Methodists in Great Britain today. But when I interviewed the then general secretary of the Methodist Church, Rev David Deeks, only five years ago, he told me there were 330,000 members. A generation ago, the figure was above a million.

The trajectory is clear. And Deeks was very frank and open about this when we spoke (the interview appeared in what older journalists would refer to as "another magazine").

"Just in the last three years," he said (this was 2005), "we have had a 30 per cent reduction in the numbers of children and young people attached to the Methodist Church. That is devastating."

He talked of a need to change, but admitted: "Whether we can deliver enough change quickly enough, I'm not sure about. To do it quickly enough when the situation is as urgent as it is, that is a more difficult question."

I do feel some sentimental attachment to the Methodists' history, remembered now only by people like my maternal grandmother. At 90, she still has, next to her piano, the Methodist hymnal she was given as a child. It is not just a matter of a faith passing away -- the theology, really, is incidental now. This is about the unnoticed disappearance of a great, and truly radical, British institution.

Just before my interview with Deeks ended, he said something I found terribly poignant, especially considering the calamitous ignorance so many Britons have of their own past. "I don't want to exaggerate," he said. "But we were something."

Yes, they were.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Commons Confidential: Dave's picnic with Dacre

Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

Sulking David Cameron can’t forgive the Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, for his role in his downfall. The unrelenting hostility of the self-appointed voice of Middle England to the Remain cause felt pivotal to the defeat. So, what a glorious coincidence it was that they found themselves picnicking a couple of motors apart before England beat Scotland at Twickenham. My snout recalled Cameron studiously peering in the opposite direction. On Dacre’s face was the smile of an assassin. Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

The good news is that since Jeremy Corbyn let Theresa May off the Budget hook at Prime Minister’s Questions, most of his MPs no longer hate him. The bad news is that many now openly express their pity. It is whispered that Corbyn’s office made it clear that he didn’t wish to sit next to Tony Blair at the unveiling of the Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial in London. His desire for distance was probably reciprocated, as Comrade Corbyn wanted Brigadier Blair to be charged with war crimes. Fighting old battles is easier than beating the Tories.

Brexit is a ticket to travel. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is lifting its three-trip cap on funded journeys to Europe for MPs. The idea of paying for as many cross-Channel visits as a politician can enjoy reminds me of Denis MacShane. Under the old limits, he ended up in the clink for fiddling accounts to fund his Continental missionary work. If the new rule was applied retrospectively, perhaps the former Labour minister should be entitled to get his seat back and compensation?

The word in Ukip is that Paul Nuttall, OBE VC KG – the ridiculed former Premier League professional footballer and England 1966 World Cup winner – has cold feet after his Stoke mauling about standing in a by-election in Leigh (assuming that Andy Burnham is elected mayor of Greater Manchester in May). The electorate already knows his Walter Mitty act too well.

A senior Labour MP, who demanded anonymity, revealed that she had received a letter after Leicester’s Keith Vaz paid men to entertain him. Vaz had posed as Jim the washing machine man. Why, asked the complainant, wasn’t this second job listed in the register of members’ interests? She’s avoiding writing a reply.

Years ago, this column unearthed and ridiculed the early journalism of George Osborne, who must be the least qualified newspaper editor in history. The cabinet lackey Ben “Selwyn” Gummer’s feeble intervention in the Osborne debate has put him on our radar. We are now watching him and will be reporting back. My snouts are already unearthing interesting information.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution