Bishop Chartres arrived at St Paul’s like Churchill at the Admiralty

Civil unrest presents a curious problem for the right-wing press. It's curious because you would have thought that banner-waving objectors to savage public-sector cuts (to pay for the errors of rich bankers) would be sitting-duck targets for the British Tea Party. Get a job or we'll cut your benefits - that sort of thing.

One of the odder columns to appear recently was the free-school enthusiast Toby Young's attack on the former canon chancellor Giles Fraser, the first of the casualties of the protest camp at St Paul's Cathedral. Young's line was that Fraser is a lefty hypocrite, because he criticises expensive weddings while supporting gay marriage. Apparently, that's inconsistent. He then came bang up to date to point out that, when the protesters first arrived at St Paul's, Fraser moved the police on from the cathedral steps because (in Young's words) "they were all God's children". Fraser then cost his employers a six-figure sum, allegedly, when the cathedral closed its doors: "Sod your colleagues, eh, Dr Fraser? The important thing is that you hold on to your reputation as a 'man of principles'."

I know that Young has made a professional practice out of losing friends and alienating people but let's just precis that again. A man of God claims that all are made in God's image and then honours his conscience over the making of money. Shocking, eh?

Libtards v righties

The above reflects a wider problem for commentators from the right. They don't like the coalition and, in general, like Dave Cameron even less. (They always call him "Dave", like they always call health and safety "elf'n'safety". They're not sure why - it just sounds right.) But they can't really get a handle on the ill-bred masses either, who don't behave like they did in the 1970s. So their terms of reference are thrown out and people don't behave to form. The St Paul's protesters, for example, are polite, articulate and predominantly middle class.

One further example: right-wing columnists had long predicted that Britain's rising (though tiny) Muslim population was a tinderbox from which would explode a social conflagration (hat-tip Enoch Powell). When the riots came in August, however, religious conflict played no part whatsoever. In the event, the only Muslim voice came from a father in Birmingham, heroically calling for peace after the violent death of his son. The righties fell uncharacteristically silent on the Muslim enemy within.

I've called them righties and, occasionally, rightards in print, to counter their use of lefties and libtards. I'm going to stop that now. They are, after all, all God's children.

Sweeping statements

I am writing this sentence listening to the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, on the Today programme, talking about the St Paul's protest. He marched into the cathedral on the morning of 1 November and took control, after Dean Graeme Knowles resigned. One pundit told me it was "like Churchill arriving at the Admiralty". Chartres is talking about reconnecting the City's money-making talents with ethical imperatives. I'm sure he's right to do so.

The other day, I chatted and took soup at the camp, before walking the few hundred yards to St Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside, to hear the merchant banker John Reynolds talk about his new book, Ethics in Investment Banking, which you may think is a candidate for slimmest volume ever but is actually very absorbing.

It occurs to me that there's a disjuncture here between what the protesters think of the City and what Chartres and Reynolds expect of it. And, indeed, between all that and some of the recidivist voices coming from the City of London Corporation, talking of "sweeping away" protest, as if 2008 never happened.

There's a huge communications challenge here. I ran a PR company - or "communications consultancy", as we must call it - for 15 years. That industry started as public relations in the 1950s and developed through public affairs to embrace the political world. It may be that the future lies in public ethics.

It would certainly have some powerful supporters. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and this magazine's sometime editor, wrote in the Financial Times on 2 November of the "moral agenda" in financial markets. Chartres's friend and Cambridge contemporary Prince Charles would lend his letter-writing weight. And Dave would love it. I smell money but I probably shouldn't say that here.

Send in the clowns

We were recently in Italy. The Italians I spoke to said that the St Paul's protest wouldn't have lasted an hour at St Peter's in Rome - they'd have been water-cannoned off the steps. I felt rather smug that our forebears had fought the Reformation. However, life still seems considerably better over there. It can't just be the weather - while I was there, storms killed nine in Liguria. Maybe it's the entertainment value of being run by a prime minister who is a rich clown with a fake tan and who looks like he's had a face job. Oh, hang on . . .

Italy is a great advertisement for coalition government, not to mention proportional representation. It may default on its debt but it delivers la dolce vita. It's the other way around with Dave and Nick.

Missionary accomplished

Regular readers will recall that I resigned from my post at Lambeth Palace after loose comments in the press involving the Archbishop and canapés. But I'm learning. The Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary calls and asks if I would support Giles Fraser for mayor of London. "I would support him in any position," I say, "except missionary." "Pardon?" says the reporter. "Except midfield," I reply.

O tempora, O mores!

George Pitcher is an Anglican priest at St Bride's Fleet Street in London

This article first appeared in the 07 November 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The triumph of the Taliban

Show Hide image

Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.