The Archbishop was not wise

The Archbishop has got himself into a fine mess. It is curious that despite this I read and hear everywhere that he is intelligent and wise. Intelligent he may be, but he lacked judgement and wisdom on this occasion. It is strange that someone is such a senior position, with access to good advice, should have made such elementary errors in handling the media.

The hostile interpretation of his speech began before the speech was made. It was obvious from the first briefings about the speech both that the Archbishop wished this speech to attract attention, and that it was going to attract the wrong type of attention. Why didn’t the Archbishop review the way it was being presented before he made it, and adjust the text to make it safe?

Why did he allow himself to "assent" to a question which drove him further in the direction of appearing to recommend alternative law codes, when it must have been obvious by that stage how such proposals were going to be received by press and public?

Why did he then refuse to give further interviews the next day when the press had torn into his remarks? Wasn’t it time to come out fighting, to defend what he had said in person, or better still to withdraw the offending comments and end the storm?

Any politician or person in the public eye knows that journalists love to push you further than you wish to go. They understandably want good copy, and good copy is extreme or whacky copy. If you are an opposition politician every day you are faced with a cruel dilemma. Do you say very sensible things that most agree with – in which case you are unlikely to be reported – or do you say something that challenges, that takes the debate on – in which case you will be reported but with the danger of massive retaliatory spin against you from the affected interest groups or the alternative party? Oppositions have to choose their ground carefully, but they have to take risks to be heard.

Government Ministers and Archbishops are in a stronger position. Some of the things they say and do have to be reported, even if they are sensible and boring. They need take fewer risks. Their words reflect actions that affect many people’s daily lives, so they are newsworthy anyway. They also do not need to be in the media in the way an Opposition needs to be in the media. They have power to do good and make changes without reference to the media. Oppositions need media coverage to try to win people over to gain power. Establishments can get by without coverage, or with the lower level coverage that comes with doing the job sensibly.

It makes the Archbishop’s decision to want to lead a public debate on the issue of Sharia Law particularly strange to understand. You would have thought the Archbishop would be working away behind the scenes, out of the limelight of the national media, on how to unite the Anglican movement worldwide during a difficult time. You would have thought he would plan his use of the national media aorund Christmas and Easter, when the Church has more ready access to the news,to find new and better ways of communicating a positive Christian message. The Anglican Church is in retreat, losing communicants and struggling for a role in many communities. Some leadership on why Anglicanism matters would be appreciated. Some moral leadership on the big issues of the day might help. There is an important role for the leader of the Established Church, but he needs to first to secure his base rather than taking such risks as he took this week.

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6 Comments

  1. haddock
    Posted February 10, 2008 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    We are all annoyed by the man's silly utterances. A section of the population who think they do not have to obey the laws that the rest of have to obey….just who do they think they are ?….. Politicians ?

  2. Cliff
    Posted February 10, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the answer to most of your questions posed is that, he was giving an honest answer in relation to what he believed. Perhaps this episode has an added benefit in so much as, it may shed light as to why politicians seldom give straight honest answers to straight questions. It must be an art to deal with the feral pack of journalists.

    I agree with you analysis that he handled his interaction with the media clumsily, however he is not a politician and I suspect that many of us would fall into the media's traps if we were in a similar position. Fortunately, it is unlikely that most of us will ever be in that position where the media hang on every word and interpret them as they see fit.

    I feel the Anglican movement already has enough problems within it without their leader making such a faux pas as this. I doubt if the Holy Father would make such a mistake.

    As I have stated in previous posts, I am against two systems of law with equal weight existing within our country, but I can see no reason why, providing the parties concerned freely agree to it, that they may not use Sharia law to resolve their dispute, as long as it is legal within existing UK law. The key words in the previous phrase are "freely agree." Sharia law must never replace our criminal law but, in certain circumstances it may be a viable alternative to the whole slow expensive process of some civil proceedings. The problem then comes in legal enforceability of any decision made by the Sharia court. I suspect within our legal system, it would have to be purely voluntary between two parties of faith.

    I think it is a good thing that The Archbishop has moved the subject into the public arena for discussion and I hope we can have sensible, sensitive discussions on the whole matter without the media stiring up anti Islamic or Christian feelings.

    I think that, we are putting too much emphasis on what the Archbishop said, as a Roman Catholic, I live by the rules of that religion and would take on board any suggestions or "rulings" made by my priest, however I am not above the law of the country and should not be. I suspect the Archbishop was suggesting something similar to this, although he was clumsy, given the current climate, with his choice of words and phrases.

  3. mikestallard
    Posted February 10, 2008 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    As another Catholic, I am disturbed by the attitude of Cambridgeshire CC to Faith Schools, I am appalled by the attitude of the government to abortion, marriage and homosexual "rights". But I go along with them because they are the law.
    The Archbishop should have made clear whether Muslims are expected to obey the common Law or not.
    But then clarity never was one of his virtues.

  4. Michael Hunt
    Posted February 10, 2008 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    I bit the bullet and listened to the Archbishop's speech on BBC Parliament. I found the speech long at almost a hour, meandering, quite hard work to follow, but less shocking than expected. The radio interview had more negative impact.

    My impression overall was that, although Williams may have his place within the C of E, his appointment was another misjudgement by Tony Blair.

  5. Adrian Windisch
    Posted February 10, 2008 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    I understood that the Pope has twice done something similar to this. He quoted some anti muslim words from the 14th Century and got in trouble in 2006 see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5346480.stm
    and again last year similarly.

    Perhaps this is why so many politicians say so little, damage limitation. Remember Bush before he became president?

    Reply: Experience of public life tells you you have to extremely careful in everything you say and write – one loose phrase can create a whirlwind

  6. newmania
    Posted February 11, 2008 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    What you say about the position of the opposition is a real revelation to me . Obvious when you come to think of it which I never would have.

    ( You seem to have no difficulty gettimg reported Mr. R)

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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