Canterbury tales

More comment on the Archbishop's NS guest-edit.

Today, the Sunday papers are having their say on the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarkable leading article in this week's New Statesman, which he guest-edited. Here's a roundup of the commentary.

Like most Fleet Street commentators, Matthew d'Ancona, in the Sunday Telegraph, reads Rowan Williams's leader as "an astonishing attack on the Coalition", passing over in silence the Archbishop's observation that "we are still waiting for a full and robust account of what the left would do differently [to the coalition government] and what a left-inspired version of localism might look like. D'Ancona spends some time examining Dr Williams's claim - which has attracted most attention this week - that "we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no-one voted". D'Ancona at least grasps, as many other commentators haven't, that the Archbishop was not questioning the legitimacy of the coalition as such, but rather its mandate to carry out certain policies (especially in relation to public sector reform) that were not in either of the governing parties' election manifestos. In response, he quotes from a recent book on the coalition by regular NS contributor Vernon Bogdanor:

As Vernon Bogdanor, David Cameron's former tutor, argues in his book on the Coalition: "In future... if we are entering a world of hung parliaments, the manifesto will be seen as nothing more than a bargaining chip, parts of which can be done away with once the votes have been counted." Lest we forget: Miliband himself was a member of Labour's negotiating team in the post-election inter-party talks 13 months ago. In the unlikely event that he and his colleagues had cobbled together a "rainbow coalition", would he - and indeed Dr Williams - have considered its decisions in government illegitimate, too?

In the same newspaper, Tim Montgomerie chastises the Archbishop for failing to acknowledge the role played by Christian Conservatives (like himself and Iain Duncan Smith) in the formulation of current government policy. Predictably, Montgomerie doesn't mention that Dr Williams commissioned a column from IDS, in which the Work and Pensions Secretary defends the coalition's welfare reforms. He's more interested in reminding the Archbishop - as if he doesn't know - that those reforms spring from the work that Duncan Smith and Montgomerie did together at the Centre for Social Justice, the right-wing thinktank formed after IDS visited the blighted Glasgow housing scheme of Easterhouse in 2002. (I discussed the work of the CSJ in an interview with Duncan Smith last year.) "Inspired by Catholic social teaching," Montgomerie writes, "[Christian Conservatives] sought to build a Conservatism that was as serious about tackling social injustice and environmental pollution as it was about crime or red tape." Montgomerie goes on:

Conservatives believe government has an important role in providing a safety net for everyone - but that strong families, a good education and work are the best routes out of poverty. Sadly, the Archbishop of Canterbury's New Statesman article leaned on the language of the Left, a language of spending and regulation.

That's a crude misrepresentation of what the Archbishop wrote. Rather than dismissing the government's welfare reforms out of hand, he urged ministers to present their message more clearly:

If what is in view - as Iain Duncan Smith argues passionately ... - is real empowerment for communities of marginal people, we need better communication about strategic imperatives, more positive messages about what cannot and will not be left to chance ...

There's nothing there that suggests a statist contempt for "empowering" the poor and the "marginal". Indeed, it seems to me that all the Archbishop is doing is suggesting that the government make Montgomerie's point - that "Conservatives believe government has an important role in providing a safety net for everyone - but that strong families, a good education and work are the best routes out of poverty" - more sharply.

Neither d'Ancona nor Montgomerie questions the constitutional propriety of the Archbishop's intervention. David Cameron didn't query Dr Williams's right to pronounce on public matters either; this was left to the odd Tory backwoodsman and people like Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society, with whom I debated the question on Radio 4's The World Tonight on Thursday. A leader in today's Observer defends the Archbishop's right to speak out:

[S]ome have argued that his intervention was misguided because the spiritual head of the Anglican church ought not to be getting political. We don't agree. To his credit, neither does David Cameron. He was correct to say that Rowan Williams is entirely free to express opinions that the government disagrees with.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.