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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Michael Gove definitely didn't betray anyone, says Michael Gove

What's a disagreement among friends?

Michael Gove is certainly not a traitor and he thinks Theresa May is absolutely the best leader of the Conservative party.

That's according to the cast out Brexiteer, who told the BBC's World At One life on the back benches has given him the opportunity to reflect on his mistakes. 

He described Boris Johnson, his one-time Leave ally before he decided to run against him for leader, as "phenomenally talented". 

Asked whether he had betrayed Johnson with his surprise leadership bid, Gove protested: "I wouldn't say I stabbed him in the back."

Instead, "while I intially thought Boris was the right person to be Prime Minister", he later came to the conclusion "he wasn't the right person to be Prime Minister at that point".

As for campaigning against the then-PM David Cameron, he declared: "I absolutely reject the idea of betrayal." Instead, it was a "disagreement" among friends: "Disagreement among friends is always painful."

Gove, who up to July had been a government minister since 2010, also found time to praise the person in charge of hiring government ministers, Theresa May. 

He said: "With the benefit of hindsight and the opportunity to spend some time on the backbenches reflecting on some of the mistakes I've made and some of the judgements I've made, I actually think that Theresa is the right leader at the right time. 

"I think that someone who took the position she did during the referendum is very well placed both to unite the party and lead these negotiations effectively."

Gove, who told The Times he was shocked when Cameron resigned after the Brexit vote, had backed Johnson for leader.

However, at the last minute he announced his candidacy, and caused an infuriated Johnson to pull his own campaign. Gove received just 14 per cent of the vote in the final contest, compared to 60.5 per cent for May. 


Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.