Today is a good day to review the progress of two leaders at modernising their institutions.
David Cameronâ€™s Conservatives are in good shape on the back of election victories. There are many more women prospective candidates. Homosexual MPs and candidates are treated like any other, as their sexual orientation is not relevant to how they do their job. No-one thinks it wrong that there are women in the Shadow Cabinet, or that the party was once led by a woman. Indeed most Conservatives are united in thinking that the partyâ€™s most successful period until recently was under a woman leader. Davidâ€™s strong support for liberty has persuaded most within the party â€“ so much so that the one time leader of the traditionalists in the Shadow Cabinet has just resigned to fight the government more strongly in defence of more civil liberty and less authoritarianism. He did not have the leadershipâ€™s encouragement to make such a stand, but I am delighted they back him and want him to win, for his fight is our fight. It is in many ways the ultimate proof that the Conservative party has â€œgot itâ€ and has modernised under David. No-one I think could have written such a script four years ago of how the Conservative party would come together behind the cause of Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus, making them thoroughly modern causes, under threat from a punk modernising government with no sense of history or personal liberty. As someone who backed David Cameron for the leadership when others thought I should vote for the “traditional” candidates, I feel pleased with my choice, and pleased that so many in the party took the same view.
In contrast Rowan Williams’ Anglican Church stumbles over all these same issues. Where Conservatives appoint more women, the Anglican Church faces an internal revolt against allowing women to be bishops. They are miles away from having a woman leader. Homosexuality has rent the Church asunder, with much support in Africa for the alternative manifesto â€œThe Way, the Truth and the Lifeâ€, and latent support from traditionalists elsewhere. The archbishop floats on the Churchâ€™s website the idea of having associated and constituent churches, where the associated ones will pursue a different approach to main issues, and look to bishops other than the archbishop for their leadership.The Anglican Church gives an uncertain message on the role of the family, their approach to sexual relationships and personal responsibility, often preferring to say nothing. Often they just demand some more British public spending for some other cause as the easy way out.
David Cameron knows that there is still much to do and that there is no reason for complacency. I guess Rowan Williams must have some sense of foreboding as the Anglican Church sets out to prove just like Brownâ€™s Britain that devolution and alternative sources of authority and power do not bring unity back, but foment the forces that wish to pull an institution apart. The Archbishop has not found the words and the actions to unite his unhappy Church. His every word seems to widen the divide, encouraging the warring factions to push further and harder in the direction they wish to go. In contrast, on homosexuality, personal freedom, the role of women and the need to curb the excesses of the authoritarian state the Conservative party has found a new settlement under its Leader.
No sensible Conservative need doubt the Leaderâ€™s Conservative credentials. This is the man who led his party in its calls for a referendum on Lisbon and to oppose the whole Treaty. This is the man who led his party to advance cuts in Inheritance Tax for the many, as well as the man who has presided over most important work on how to mend Britainâ€™s damaged society. Under Cameron Conservatives know what we believe in â€“ we believe in opportunity for all, with reform of public sector housing and schooling to make that more of a reality for those currently excluded from home ownership and good education by Labourâ€™s clumsy state. We believe in individual and family responsibility, with welfare reform to encourage and require people to work if they can and where work is available. We believe in looking to the security of our country, with appropriate measures to make the UK and its citizens safer. This includes action to reduce our dependence on imported oil and gas, to increase fuel efficiency, and to look after our green landscape.
There is unity around these central aims. There will be unity about the need to tackle the mess that Labour is creating with the economy, which is now the dominant concern of most voters. In contrast the Anglican Church can look forward to more disunity, as the rival archbishops and bishops set out their stalls. As an Anglican myself, am I to be offered a choice of styles locally? Will I be able to find a church which both values the fine traditional language of the Book of Common Prayer, the great anthems and choral works, yet be rooted in the modern world when it comes to personal freedoms? Watch this space.