Ending women free zones

Priest and academic Giles Fraser hails the progress towards consecrating women as bishops in the Chu

And about time too. Of course, we won’t have women bishops in the C of E for several years yet. But the momentum of the Synodical process is now decisively in the direction of consecrating women and the whole idea of women free zones for traditionalists has gone down in smoke. Those of us who had fought hard for this, quietly celebrated with a few beers in the student bar at York University, where the debate took place.

Though the final vote was clear, there had been some choppy moments.

Towards the end of a long debate, a number of Bishops, fearing the direction things seemed to be going, rose to scupper the result. The Bishop of Durham tired to get us to put off a vote, arguing that with the Lambeth conference about to take place, and with all our rowing about gay bishops, we didn’t need any more division. The Bishop of Dover said he was “ashamed” that the Synod wasn’t prepared to create greater safeguards for those who don’t think women can be made priests of bishops - just as they don’t think a pork pie can be made a priest or bishop.

Yes, that is an example that has been used. It’s quite extraordinary that he can be ashamed of our church when we fail to give the anti-women bishops brigade their own women free enclave, but not ashamed that we have been complicit in centuries of misogyny. The so-called traditionalists speak a lot about ‘deeply held theological conviction’ and many bishops want to veto the use of words like discrimination by progressives.
But it is what it is.

The debate threw up some unlikely heroes. Foremost among them the Bishop of Liverpool, who has had his troubles of late, chiefly as chair of governors of the Oxford college, Wycliffe Hall that has made the news for sacking most of its staff and going so right wing it has been nicknamed an Anglican madrasa. But his speech steered the women bishops debate to its conclusion. The job description of bishops, he argued, was to feed the body of Christ. And yet, before the body of Christ became a metaphor for the people of God, it was a women that feed Christ’s physical body and looked after him. Here was the Biblical argument for women bishops. Indeed - on this argument - the very first bishop was a woman. It proved the vital speech.

The traditionalists speak a lot about being pushed out. Actually, no one is pushing them out. All sides of the church want them to stay. Which is why the church will draw of a code of practice so that their views - weird as they are - can be accommodated. Some may leave - though far far less than say they might.

But the House of Bishops can stay a boys' club no longer. It's this boys' club mentality that is creating so much hand-wringing: "Fr. so-and-so, we went to college together, great priest, such a shame he is thinking of leaving, having to brush up on his Italian etc". All of which is piled on with a dollop of sentimental tosh dressed up as pastoral care. Synod saw through all this and voted for what is right and just. Alleluia.

Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney and a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times