A farce by any other name

In the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a peasant asks Arthur how he became king. Arthur replies: “The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur.” Another peasant then says: “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.”

Megan Manson, Campaign Secretary for the National Secular Society (NSS) comments that: “Monty Python are comedy legends not just because they lampoon mythology central to British culture. They also brilliantly parody our existing system affairs of state – which are no less bizarre than Arthur’s ‘farcical aquatic ceremony’’. Megan Manson recently appeared on a BBC 4 programme in which she discussed the coronation and the importance of addressing the dominant role of the Church of England in the inauguration of the British head of state and other public ceremonies. Her above comments were most appropriate.

Commenting on the recent coronation event featuring the latest in the hereditary line of British monarchs, and their partners, an Australian friend stated: “No country can hold a match to England when it comes to holding such an event.  It really was spectacular from every point of view.  And the music in the cathedral was outstanding.  What gets me though, is how the Church of England was at the centre of everything – for a couple of hours! It seemed that the ceremony wasn’t the crowning of the King of England, but rather crowning God’s King on Earth, or, at least, crowning the King of the Protestant faith. The percentage of the members of the Commonwealth who seriously and devoutly believed in the Protestant God would be way below 50%.  They were supposed to be crowning the King of England, but you would not have known it.”

As a Scot by birth, I readily forgave my Aussie friend for his reference to the crowning of the “King of England”, as this conflation of “England” with the “United Kingdom”, and vice versa (not to mention The Commonwealth) seems to be a universal phenomenon (particularly when referenced by Americans and Australians). Further, I also pointed out to my friend and valued correspondent that, as a former Minister of the Baptist Church tradition within Christianity, it is a fact that the Christian Church is so much wider and more incredibly varied than merely one of Christianity’s denominations, the Church of England, whether referring to religious practice in the United Kingdom or to the world in general.

Readers of my blog articles, or regular email correspondents, may know that, apart from what I formerly may have been in my personal and professional lives, I am now a member of the British Republican Movement (BRM), as well as the National Secular Society (NSS). As such, present readers will not be surprised to know that I was not one of the minorities of British persons who witnessed the recent coronation event, neither on location nor on television.

However, after reading a couple of articles in a recent edition of the NSS newsletter, as well as hearing of the arrest and brief imprisonment of the BRM’s CEO, Graham Smith (for his peaceful protest at the event – even before it began!), I was constrained to write this article. Further, I am of the view that many, if not the majority, who viewed the coronation event with such fervour, if not favour, may well have been unaware of the significance of matters unfolding at and during the ceremony within Westminster Abbey.

Naturally, I respect the right of any person, British or otherwise, to be a monarchist, or to be a person who subscribes to the beliefs of any religious faith. However, I also firmly believe that the holding of any such views or beliefs should be, without prejudice, subject to the open expression of alternative perspectives – providing of course that they are consistent with prevailing laws that are sensible and are pursued and practiced without discrimination.

With the foregoing in mind, it was interesting to read that the National Secular Society recently brought together people of different faiths to discuss the future of the campaign to disestablish the Church of England. Although recent events, viz., the CofE’s role in the coronation event have led to increased scrutiny of the CofE’s established status and the privileges that flow from it, what this multi-faith conference made apparent was that these privileges are now being scrutinized and criticized by people of very different beliefs and backgrounds.

As the current NSS Newsline (19.05.2023) stated, “It is encouraging to see that those who may have profound disagreements with one another joining together in recognizing the unsustainability and injustice of the CofE’s established status.”

The shared commitment of those who came together, including Anglican priests and atheists, is not only to challenge the CofE privileges and replace privilege with equality. This is a promising first step, and one that the partners will be working hard to build upon. However, the partnership’s endeavors will also include such objectives as “holding the CofE to account for abuse, recognizing that the CofE’s increasingly dire record on safeguarding should have consequences for its established status and the need to separate the CofE from the state.”

Stephen Evans, the Chair of the NSS, has stated that this is not to deny religious leaders the freedom to speak out on matters that concern them, but “they should do so based on the principle of equality, not privilege.” The British system of government should not make “politicians out of prelates”, privileged or otherwise. Such challenges to the CofE also recognize that research in recent years shows that “the people of the United Kingdom are increasingly wary of religion, yet comfortable with people belonging to different religions.”

If the inauguration of a new monarch gives rise to some of the matters raised and questions discussed in this article, then this is to be welcomed. However, for this writer, the recent events involving the British royal family evidences the fact that the event and process of placing a new monarch on a throne in contemporary UK is a farce by any other name.  


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Separate in form and function

In my previous article, I made a case for the disestablishment of the Church of England as the state church of the UK.

Relevant to this subject, it is anticipated that The National Secular Society (NSS) will hold an online discussion to explore the necessity of disestablishment in the context of modern Britain’s religiously diverse landscape. The online discussion, to be held this month (February), will explore not only how disestablishment benefits the state, but also arguments from those within the Church who support a secular state from a religious perspective. It has been reported that Anglicans sceptical of the Church of England’s established status will join the NSS for this online discussion on the future of church and state.

The chief executive of the NSS, Stephen Evans, said: “Following the revelation that Christians are no longer the majority in England and Wales, the established church has never looked so out of place. It is, therefore, more imperative than ever that serious conversations about separating church and state are brought to the fore.” The online discussion is “…an event designed to bring together everyone who believes that a secular democracy, in which people of all religions and beliefs are treated equally, is the best way to protect the rights and freedoms of all.” Naturally, the Anglican bishops would not agree to abolish their presence in the House of Lords. The NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: “The bishop’s opposition to plans for a more democratic second chamber reveals how self-serving the Lords Spiritual are.”

Moreover, and to indicate the political nature of issue, following the Labour Party’s recent pronouncement that it would seek to abolish the non-selective aspect of the House of Lords, a Labour Party spokesperson has said that, “Under Labour’s plans, it is inconceivable that the bishops’ bench could remain part of the legislature, because it is one of the most archaic, undemocratic, and unjustifiable groupings in the House of Lords. Alan Smith, and the bishops in the Lords he represents, know this – hence his opposition to such reforms.” Whether the House of Lords is abolished entirely, replaced, or reformed, there should be no reserved seats for religious clerics. The bishops’ bench has no place in a modern democracy – let alone a largely irreligious and religiously diverse country where Christians are not now the majority (see the previous blog).

During 2022, as well as campaigning for the issues mentioned above, the NSS had been active in many other areas in the cause of advancing secularism in British society. In what follows, this article will briefly discuss a number of these.

The National Secular Society (NSS) was responsible for proposals for updating marriage law to reflect the nature of contemporary society in which British people live. Such proposals were reflected in the Law Commissioner’s recommendations for reform. The NSS has advocated tolerance, rather than condemnation, of those who aren’t in an opposite-sex marriage. In the face of religious opposition, the NSS has successfully lobbied to improve women’s access to abortion services.

In sympathy with the aims of the Dignity in Dying campaign, the NSS has been successful in bringing about a review of the assisted dying laws. The NSS support has given valuable support to a proposed bill to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill adults in the Isle of Man. So too, the NSS has issued a warning that some religious groups with theological objections to assisted dying resort to fearmongering and misinformation to impose their beliefs on those who want the option. The NSS has recently responded to two other consultations on assisted dying held by a UK parliamentary select committee and the government of Jersey.

In the field of education, the NSS promoted the rights of children to live, learn, and develop their beliefs free of religious coercion and control. So too, the society has stepped up to the plate when it comes to reminding religious offence takers that free speech is a fundamental right of citizens, in this country, as elsewhere, and that this is a positive value that the society is unwilling to surrender.

Steven Evans, pointing out that next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reminds us that “Secularism’s role in allowing equality and human rights to flourish is too often unrecognised and hugely under-appreciated. In a world where polarisation, authoritarianism, and religious fundamentalism are gaining ground, the secular liberal democratic ideals that underpin human rights can’t be taken for granted.”

Meanwhile, across the pond in the United States of America, the 2022 US Supreme Court ruling in the Roe v Wade case, was a wake-up call to remind all of us that conservative religious views threaten women’s reproductive rights globally. In Europe, the movement towards the political right, and more extreme conservative views in Poland and Italy, is eroding reproductive freedoms.  

However, it is not only in allegedly Catholic Christian countries in which religious conservatism represses human freedoms. The NSS has widely campaigned against the role of religious rites and rituals that impose restraints and restrictions on women and children. Children’s circumcision and women’s compulsory wearing of the hijab, have been challenged. In the absence of a fair measure of secularism, children, women, as well as minority religious and sexual views, have continued to feel the full force of oppression and a complete absence of secularism by theocratically controlled countries. For a state to be protected from oppressive religious institutions, and for human rights and freedoms to be protected, it is necessary for state and religion institutions to be separate in form and function. No matter in which country they constrain human freedoms, it is blasphemy laws, not books, that belong on the bonfire.

The above shows various ways in which the NSS has furthered its mission to bring people together to build a freer, fairer, and more tolerant society. It does so with the belief that a secular state is the best way to bring this about, and that secularism’s time has come.


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The time has come

The time between Christmas and the dawn of a new year, is an opportune time to reflect on the year that has nearly ended. As a member of the National Secular Society (NSS), I am aware that secularists are sometimes accused of removing the religious celebration of Christmas and replacing it with some sort of godless, mid-winter festival. In a recent NSS bulletin, Stephen Evans, the CEO of the NSS, has reminded the society’s members that, “Like almost everyone else, we (the NSS) see Christmas for the inclusive religious/secular mash up that it is – and secularists welcome the chance for a midwinter break”.

For NSS members, Christmas/New Year reflections offer an opportunity to consider the fact that, in today’s world, nobody can claim Christmas as their own. The same could be said of our (British) state and its institutions. In what follows, and with reference to the publications of the NSS during the year, I will briefly summarise some of the involvements and achievements of the NSS during 2022, particularly in respect of the relation between Church and State.

Politicians and community leaders have in the past used Christmas to claim that “Britain is a Christian country”. This may have been true in the past but cannot be substantiated today. This year’s census figures shows that only 46% of the population, less than half, identify as Christian. This is significant. Whilst in some parts of the country there has been a growth in the numbers of fundamentalist and ethnic Christian churches, there has been a noticeable decline in the historical British churches. Such trends could be substantiated by reference to the East End of London and the English Midlands.

The 2022 census show that attendance figures at Christian places of worship in England has fallen to 0.9% of the population. More starkly, this reveals that Christianity is now a minority interest. Interestingly, non-Christian religions have generally seen an increase in their adherents, with immigration patterns, as well as their methods of religious evangelism, contributing to this phenomenon. As revealed by the census, the present situation should be a humbling moment for the historical UK churches – not least the recognised national church, the Church of England.

The above would suggest that the British political settlement should reflect this reality. The census figures paint a clear picture of the growing irreligiosity and religious pluralism across the country. The obvious conclusion to this diverse situation is for the country to be managed as a secular state, and not as a Christian country. It follows that the Christian Church, most notably the Church of England, should relinquish its disproportionate privileges. Such a move would have significant implications.

Such implications would affect the following: the establishment of the Church of England as the State Church; the continuation of Christian prayers before parliamentary sessions; the presence of 26 Anglican (Church of England) bishops in the House of Lords (often used as  voting block to support its agendas); the content and method of teaching of Religious Education in schools; the control of thousands of state schools; and, perhaps of more significance than anything else, the institutionalising of the Christian faith in consequence of the reigning monarch being also the Head of the State Church, the Church of England.

As with monarchy itself, the fact of having a monarch as the Head of the Church of England, is surely an anachronistic, discriminatory, and anti-democratic constitutional anomaly. In May of next year, King Charles III will be coronated. This ceremony will include the anointing of Charles Windsor by a Church of England bishop and his act of swearing to defend the Anglican faith. Despite the arrogant and rather ludicrous desire of the new king to be the “defender of faiths”, his coronation ceremony will be an explicitly Anglican rite. He and his wife will be anointed and blessed by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey (an historic edifice of the Church of England), and he will take an oath to “maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by established law in England”.

One critical description of the coronation ceremony stated as follows: “For many the ceremony will be a fascinating view. Fascinating because, for most brits, it will be inscrutable and exotic. We’ll be watching an ancient quasi-shamanic initiation rite of a largely unfamiliar tribal religion, complete with elaborate costumes and esoteric songs and chants”.

The writer of the above goes on to ask, “But is that how a nation should be viewing its leader, as an otherworldly and outlandish religious figure with little to nothing in common with the people he leads? As Monty Python and the Holy Grail put it, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Similarly, neither are strange men invoking a god only a minority believe in to crown the head of state”.

This is another reminder of the archaic religious privilege at the heart of the (unwritten) British Constitution, especially where Christians have become a minority of the population the constitution is meant to serve. This situation should be as embarrassing as it is overbearing. It is a glaring reminder of the herculean task of the sensible and secular reformation required in this country, to consider the nature of the British monarchy’s ties to the church, even to the extent that there are those, perhaps even inside the monarchic circle, that wholeheartedly believe that, whether male or female, the monarch’s authority is divinely ordained.

Faced with growing competition from a myriad of other approaches to faith, as well as non-religious worldviews, e.g., secularism, the Christian Church no doubt sees itself as having several aces in its hand, as referenced in the above. Notwithstanding, the numbers of British Christians continues to decline year on year, and the stigma of UK citizens being non-believers has almost completely vanished. Surely, and for the sake of both, it is time for state and church in the UK to go their separate ways, with a minimal of decisions taken, firstly, for the Church of England to be disestablished, and, secondly, for the affairs of State to be separated from those of the Church.

It is in the climate revealed in the above that the NSS has been working tirelessly to achieve a secularist influence over British public policy. In a subsequent article, and in acknowledging the publications which have come from the NSS over the past year, I will outline some further aspects of the work of the NSS during 2022, as it works to bring about and support a secular British state, a secular state whose time has come.


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In the service of others

There has been talk in political circles recently about what level of remuneration Members of Parliament should receive when their time in office ceases. In particular, the discussion has focused on whether the outgoing leader of the Conservative Party and, therefore, the Prime Minister, Liz Truss, was entitled to a yearly expenses allowance of £115k for life – if she wishes to accept. This is an offer is made to all outgoing PMs. The allowance is for ongoing expenses relating to diary commitments, police protection at personal events a former PM attends, stationary, staff, and travel.

The foregoing followed a particularly volatile period in British politics, in which the flames of economic turmoil were fanned by a highly controversial and damaging budget by the Truss government’s Chancellor, Kwazi Kwarteng, resulting in the resignations of Kwarteng as Chancellor and Truss as PM.

The view of this writer is that Liz Truss, or any other ex-PM, should receive payments in line with the going rate at the time of their office. They should not be cossetted, and especially not for life, with an “expenses allowance” of the present magnitude. This situation is outrageous, unfair, and, over time, expensive. In the case of Liz Truss, her extremely short tenure as the UK PM, exemplifies this viewpoint. (It is to be noted that Theresa May, UK Prime Minister 2017-2019, is the only living PM who has not accepted her “expenses allowance”). The question of an MP’s salary is a little more difficult to navigate.

There is a view, held strongly by some, that, “apart from the (usually) self-employed, like top lawyers, it would be ridiculous for gifted young to middle-aged persons, at the top of their profession, to consider entering politics.” Politicians are probably paid well enough while in office, but long-term employment is a very risky probability.  The risk is that after a few terms, no matter how able politicians may be, they could wind up being tossed out of office and on the dole. 

Some who adhere to this perspective further consider that this is a risk that few top people would be inclined to take, so we wind up with the “moronic self-seekers” that we have. A well-paid senior scientist, banker, academic, etc., would have difficulty re-entering their profession after 5 – 10 years, or more, in Westminster, so they would not contemplate taking the risk of getting into politics, regardless of their convictions or abilities.

Furthermore, and with respect to pensions, the foregoing view considers that the pensions we pay to ex-politicians are poor, and not worth the risk of entering the political arena. In view of this, it is held that the pensions paid to ex-politicians should at least be equal to what they would be getting as a salary, had they stayed in their (top level) “old job”.  It is not stated, however, what would be the pension payments if ex-politicians were subsequently to be re-employed in their former profession and at their concomitant salary. Would their level of pension from political service remain the same?

In the event of the system above outlined being the case, then, it is considered, we should see a sharp increase in the calibre of our politicians. However, there is a fatal flaw in this perspective.

The viewpoint outlined in the above seems to favour the practice of politicians coming from the professional classes, where salaries and pensions tend to be at the higher end of financial remuneration, a situation that may favour one or other of the political parties. The flaw is that the democratic system of government, as practised in the UK, is a system of government that requires politicians to represent a multitude of different constituencies in the country and, therefore, for the political representatives to themselves be of mixed occupational backgrounds – more of a reflection of the typology of their constituency.

The complication, therefore, is that parliamentary representatives may well be native to the constituencies they represent, and in so being, have a completely different social and economic background to that described above for politicians who have a professional background.

In this context, it is useful to reflect about the parliamentary representatives who come from less affluent backgrounds, e.g., a bus or train driver, metalworker, carpenter, dockyard worker, farmer, local council worker, or union official? Should they be content with receiving their former income whilst others receive the salaries of, for example, a lawyer, doctor, dentist, hedge-fund manager, business leader, or entrepreneur? The latter often become relatively wealthy before they “offer their services” to the business of governance. But they represent only a specific, and limited, area of life from which persons in any form of governance – local, regional, or national – come.

Politics is not, or should not be, an elitist career – that is a way to the corruption of the enterprise. Such politics then becomes the job of serving the elite, the powerful, the wealthy, and not THE PEOPLE. If that process and conclusion is naïve, then I stand accused.

There are very few, if any, areas of employment that could, or even should, guarantee life-long incomes at the one affluent level. There is a distinction here between employment earnings and inheritance. Serving THE PEOPLE (politics) could be described as an employment deserving of the title of a “calling”, in the same manner, perhaps, as being a social worker, priest, hospital worker, social carer, youth worker, that is, a vocation involving the personal caring of other persons in response to an inwardly felt call or summons. Genuine service to other persons is not an opportunity to feather one’s nest whilst doing something that provides prestige, affluence, and security in the process.

Being a politician has its demands – financial, personal, familial, and career or job implications. But persons who go into politics knowing that their time in office, as well as their salary, is probably limited, are likely to use their time and opportunity to be better servants than otherwise. It is also worth remembering that politicians are elected by their constituents – THE PEOPLE. Being a representative of THE PEOPLE is not a job for life and should not give politician privileges that are not generally enjoyed by THE PEOPLE whom they serve.

Call this idealism, but in any field of service determined by THE PEOPLE, there should not be an elite from which politicians are chosen or those whom politics separates into a privileged class.

Politicians are persons who join a political party from a variety of backgrounds – professions, trades, commerce, skilled and unskilled. On behalf of the party and the people who comprise its membership, whilst in office they work, whether at local, regional, or national level, to improve and enrich the lives of all THE PEOPLE. In the case of national government, the example with which this article commences, when their role, either in government or opposition, has concluded, they are able to re-connect with the grass roots of their party return to their previously normal way of life. The rewards ebb and flow with the direction of their working lives and political careers.

Their reputation, association, professionalism, etc., enable them to slot back into the career, job, and attendant way of life and culture they left. Or, perhaps, they choose another pathway through life, with all the related concerns for oneself and family that such a move brings. It is to be expected that ex-politicians should not have been so indulged whilst being in political service that, once they have left the service of THE PEOPLE, they need, or expect, to receive all the benefits (including salary and allowances) they once may have enjoyed in political service.

Politics is the focus on, the knowledge of, and effort expended in, the service of others – not oneself!


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For whom the bell tolls

This article will be published the day after the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II. The reason for this is not so much as a showing of respect, which it is, as it is a realisation that, before finalising the text, there was so much happening in royal circles, the media, and with the public, that events were required to come their full circle before all and sundry, including the whole of the family of the late Elizabeth Windsor.

I was motivated to write this article after watching a video clip from Australia. It was called “S.J. Paterson: An Ode to Charles the Third”, and was broadcast by the ABC in Australia as part of a series by the presenter Sammy J. To this writer’s knowledge, Sammy J., whilst being relatively unknown in the UK, is highly regarded down under. His presentation of “An Ode to Charles the Third”, is no less humorous, thought provoking, and contentious as some of his previous programmes I have viewed.

Without going into too much detail, Sammy J’s ode rehearses one Australian approach to the recent change of monarch. It raises issues that Australian republicans, perhaps also those in the UK, must now be contemplating – questions about class, wealth, power, heritage, democracy, and peoples’ choices. Readers may be able to access Sammy J’s ode on YouTube.

Coverage of the death and the aftermath of Elizabeth Windsor has received wall-to-wall coverage by the British news media. Indeed, the event has received wide coverage throughout the world, particularly in Commonwealth countries, even in those states which have displayed republican tendencies.

The death of Elisabeth Windsor has resulted in the cancellation or re-scheduling of regular TV and radio programmes, the postponing of sporting events, the closing of business houses, and, perhaps inevitably, the granting of a public holiday on the day of her funeral. The nation has witnessed more than a week of pomp and circumstance, pageantry, military display, silence, clapping, the sounds of the British National Anthem, in-depth interviews with those who have stories to tell and personal situations to remember, thousands of persons waiting to view the on-display monarch’s casket, or bow silently, clap, or throw a flower towards the funeral cortege. In all of this, the members of the Windsor family have displayed an eminent suitability for the roles for which they have been carefully reared and admirably trained. Their grief appears to meld with that of a public in whose service they find justification and consolation.     

The public reaction to the event of Elizabeth Windsor’s death, whilst overall being sad and sympathetic, has been by no means one-sided – even if republican attitudes have been muted. As a republican, the comments that follow will, understandably focus on the critique of the event. Sufficient has already been voluminously made of the royalist position.

Commenting on the postponing of a full round of major football matches due to the death of Elizabeth Windsor, one spokesperson said that “Football exists in a bubble and must occasionally step out of that bubble into the real world”. In this writer’s view, and to echo the words of the one-time Liverpool football coach, Bill Shankly, football is more than a game, it is a way of life for many ordinary people. It is royalty that exists in a bubble, and the royal game is played by very few persons. It is also a very expensive game.

The funeral of Elizabeth Windsor, and the succession of her eldest son, Charles Windsor, to be King Charles III, has not been without some controversy. Very soon after Charles Windsor became the new monarch, he announced that his eldest son and now heir apparent to the British throne, William, is to be the new Prince of Wales. Seemingly, with no consultation with the Welsh government, not to mention the Welsh people, this situation will no doubt be the subject of much discussion and controversy in the coming weeks, and certainly around the time when the investiture ceremony for the position takes place in traditional location of Caernarvon, North Wales. Perhaps Charles III might need to heed the lessons to be learned from the fates of his  two previous namesakes, the 17th century monarchs Charles I and Charles II.

There will be controversy in the matter of what Charles Windsor decides with respect to the royal and official status of his brother Andrew and son Harry. Early indications are that he will seek to bring them back under royal tutelage and discipline, if not public favour. In this respect, it is interesting, perhaps prophetic, that Prince Andrew has not only been given permission to wear a military uniform when he takes part in the Vigil of the Princes at Westminster Abbey, he has also been allowed to keep his role as Counsellor of State under King Charles III’s reign. This means that he can perform duties for the monarch if he is ill or abroad.

Andrew, along with Prince Harry, Prince William, and Charles (when he was the Prince of Wales), held the position of Counsellor of State before Elizabeth Windsor passed away on 8 September. Under Charles’ reign, Andrew, Harry (37), William (40), and Princess Beatrice (34), will all be Counsellors of State. Those given the role is determined by who are the top four people in the line of succession over the age of 21. Camilla (75), the King’s consort, can also act in King Charles’ absence. Most controversially, perhaps, is the fact that Beatrice, daughter of Andrew, will now be authorised to carry out most of the official duties of the sovereign, including meetings of the Privy Council, signing routine documents, and receiving the credentials of new ambassadors in the UK – according to the royal family website.

It would now appear more clearly than ever, that the role of the British Head of State has become a family affair. Surely a unique situation for the exercise of such a role, and one that is not without controversy.

In comparison with the freedoms afforded the members of the royal family, existing freedoms of the British people are increasingly being abused. In this respect, the arrest of protesters holding protest placards at events where members of the royal family have been present during the past couple of weeks is an affront to democracy and highly likely to be unlawful. One news broadcast firmly stated that “Police officers have a duty to protect people’s right to protest as much as they have a duty to facilitate people’s right to express support, sorrow, or pay their respects.”

In recent days many people have come together to respect Britain’s traditions and national identity. Notwithstanding, it is important to remember that “…a foundation of British democracy is the right to freedom of speech. At a time when the UK is under an international lens, it would be to flagrantly disrespect the values of our country if this right were to be diminished.” Big Brother comes in many disguises!

The death of Elizabeth Windsor represents a significant constitutional moment. An example of this comes from the National Secular Society (NSS), which has long argued that a head of state in the 21st century should have “no constitutional entanglement with religion.” As such, the NSS stands ready to “shape the debate about the monarchy, and advocate for a secular head of state as part of our campaign to separate church and state.”

Likewise, the British Republican Movement (BRM), views the coming year, with, for example, a coronation next Spring, as a year of challenging the basis of monarchy in the UK. The objective of the BRM is, of course, the abolition of the monarchy, and has the major objective of galvanising known republicans, and the challenge of drawing new members into its enterprise. The BRM sees royalty in general, and coronation/investiture ceremonies particularly, as pointless bits of theatre, an absurd charade on a huge, and costly, scale. Nevertheless, these anachronistic, even fantastical, displays have political implications, needing political involvement to counter.

The death of Elizabeth Windsor and the accession of Charles Windsor will usher-in changes to attitudes and, maybe, ways of life in the UK. Some changes will be subtle, such as to flags, stamps, and cash, others may be more publicly observable, for example, fashion, architecture, the environment, and humour, as the new monarch seeks to make his mark. Opinions will change as the time passes, as the doleful and elegiac of the past week gives way to a more spiky and irreverent future. What will be the future of a green king and the nature of public protest?

One thing is certain. This writer will not be dashing out to purchase the special commemorative edition of OK Magazine, “The 100-page tribute that looks back at the life of our most beloved monarch, Queen Elizabeth II”.

In concluding, I reflect on the interview with a lady from the north of England. The lady in question was informing the TV interviewer that she had just pawned her engagement ring so that she could afford to live in the present British economic climate. As the interview concluded, the interviewee sorrowfully said, “I will go home, make myself a cup of tea, and have a good cry”. The woman further commented, “You wonder how much this funeral is going to cost, and yet somehow there isn’t a little more for people like me”. This comment, coming from such a source, is far more potent than if it were to come from a financial commentator looking at government finances.

In all of this, how long will it be before we again hear the ring of Westminster Abbey’s Sebastopol Bell?


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Slivers of hope

Though not widely covered elsewhere, The Guardian newspaper recently reported the news that George Monbiot, the journalist and commentator – on ecological matters as well as much else – has won this year’s Orwell prize for journalism.

For many years, George Monbiot has been an indefatigable champion of what an increasing number of people across the globe are coming to recognise as “the most important, and most neglected crisis facing humanity.” That is, of course, the issue of global warming and its effects on all forms of life on earth.

The Guardian reports that, in a fitting tribute to Monbiot’s work, one of the judges for the award said, “In the finest traditions of George Orwell’s journalism, George Monbiot draws on a vast reserve of knowledge to write with wit, elegance, forensic insight, and sustained and justified anger on this crisis.”

So, at a time when the UK is experiencing a summer of unprecedented hot weather and high temperatures, due, in the opinion of many, to climate change brought about by the consequences of human activity, huge congratulations to George Monbiot on his Orwell prize for journalism.

Long may his efforts, and those of like-minded commentators and activists, continue. 


This was also the week that saw me reading Richard Flanagan’s book The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Flanagan is an Australian writer, and his novel won the Man Booker literary prize in 2014. Flanagan is from Sydney and joins a distinguished list of Australian novelists, including Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally, to have won this coveted award.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is broadly based on the experiences of Richard Flanagan’s father as a POW working on the so-called “death railway” – the line that ran from Burma to Thailand – during WW2. The unspeakable horrors of this Japanese construction project are well known to many Australians through experience, literature, and legend.

Reviews of the book suggest that the novel is not simply one of unremitting horror, suffering and inescapable death, for, as one reviewer put it: “Acts of terrifying violence and appalling humiliation are suddenly illumined by slivers of hope – expressed by the naked, skeletal prisoners in acts of unexpected generosity (the sharing of a rice ball or a joke) – and a central love story.”

The story of the novel is not without love and hope. Flanagan says that he had to find “a story from hope, and love is the greatest expression of hope. Love is the discovery of eternity in a moment that dies immediately.” He quotes the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in saying: “Hope is the cruellest of torments because it prolongs human suffering, but it is also the engine of us. Without it we die.”

The love element is provided by a tale that Flanagan heard about a Latvian man who scoured the earth in search of his wife at the end of the war. Moving to Tasmania, Australia’s southern-most state, the Latvian later caught sight of the woman in Sydney, a child holding each of her hands. This was a moment of decision. Gripping stuff!

Richard Flanagan is not, however, without a keen social and political consciousness.  Following some remarks of Tony Abbott, a recent Australian Prime Minister, about coal being “good for humanity”, Flanagan is recorded as saying that he was “ashamed of being Australian”. So too, in one of the BBC’s Newsnight programmes, Flanagan spoke of his dismay at the repeal of the peace deal struck between logging companies and ecological activists in Tasmania. Clearly, Flanagan’s opposition is to policies, not to people.

In the past Flanagan has spoken eloquently about “the bankruptcy of political rhetoric in Australia” – the false myths; the conformity of political culture; the cynicism of political groupthink; and, with echoes of Richard Wagner, the twilight of the political gods. Again, “We are living in a new period where the old forms don’t hold – a new form hasn’t yet been invented.”

A quote from one reviewer of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Charlotte Higgins, seems to encapsulate the ideas behind both the prize-winning book and Richard Flanagan’s philosophy of life: “I get more optimistic as I get older. If you choose to take your compass from power, in the end you find only despair. But if you look around the world you can see and touch – the everyday world that is too easily dismissed as everyday – you see largeness, generosity, hope, change for the better. It’s always small but it’s real.”

And, in an analogy that could only come from a typical, down-to-earth Australian, Flanagan said: “We need politics like we need a good sewerage system – it should be run properly and efficiently. But over the last century we have made a fetish of politics and we believe too much in it; we invest too much of ourselves in it and we don’t recognise the wonder in ourselves.”

Not only is Richard Flanagan a prize-winning novelist; he could be considered a modern philosopher. His novel provides a sliver of hope, as does the work of Orwell prize winning writer, George Monbiot, in a world where new forms of living are urgently required.


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Get Brexit Done

“A comprehensive romp through the dramatic run-up to the 2019 general election, the culmination of several electrifying years which transformed British politics. A must-read for anybody who wants to understand what comes next.”  This was the view of Pippa Crerar, the Political Editor of the Daily Mirror newspaper, in reviewing the latest publication of the Nuffield series of publications on British political elections, “Get Brexit Done: The British General Election of 2019”.

The foreword to this book states that it is the 21st. volume in the prestigious Nuffield series of British general election studies that started with the 1945 election. The 2019 election is considered remarkable for being the third general election in four years, a unique event in modern British politics. The book undertakes a massive description and analysis of events over the several years of the study, including changes and continuities in the background of candidates, opinion polling, media coverage, election strategies, instances of party system fragmentation, blanket media coverage, and shifts in the forces shaping voting patterns.

This book manages to balance these factors and changes, along with cogent interviews with those who were responsible for key decision in the political parties, as well as providing detailed and sophisticated analysis of the election results. It is a remarkable example of teamwork, that includes not only the authors of the book, Robert Ford, Tim Bale, Will Jennings, and Paula Surridge, but also its publishers, Palgrave Macmillan. An acknowledgement should also be offered for the contributions of other writers, for example, Ailsa Henderson and John Curtice, in writing various chapters in the book.

The overall purpose of the book is to provide an accurate, and as far as possible, an impartial account and explanation of the 2019 General Election. Sources are not always named, not only because quotes were taken from numerous conversations and interviews that challenge the memory, but also because some sources wished to remain anonymous. The authors admit responsibility for errors that might have occurred.

The major underlying argument integral to the 2019 election was Brexit – the process of removing the UK from membership of the European Union and the EU’s institutions. This was a dominating factor in the parliament leading up to the 2019 election, as well as in the background of several previous elections. It was the primary factor responsible for Boris Johnson becoming the UK Prime Minister. The 2019 General Election was dubbed the “Brexit election”. Johnson campaigned relentlessly on the issue of Brexit and, along with other notable political figures, particularly of the Conservative and UKIP political parties, secured a parliamentary majority which was seen as one that was substantial enough to determine the outcomes of British politics for many years. Therefore, it is understandable that Brexit is given a separate and major chapter in the book.

The events of the time – the unpicking of 40 years of political and economic integration – were too much for the temperament, strength, and skills of Theresa May, the Prime Minister who followed David Cameron and preceded Boris Johnson. May had been elected in June 2017 following the resignation of David Cameron, but the demands and intricacies of the Brexit decisions and processes caused the decline and eventual failure of her premiership in July 2019. This brought Boris Johnson into the leadership of the Conservative Party and the office of PM.

Johnson was one of the prime figures in the moving and shaking activity behind Brexit. With sometimes dramatic and controversial decisions, allied with irrepressible enthusiasm and public appeal, he sealed his control over the affairs of Brexit and the ensuing parliament. Then, with a decisive win over Labour at the 2019 General Election, one that was dubbed the “Brexit election”, he secured for his party, many of whom were firm “Brexiteers”, a parliamentary majority which was seen at the time as being one to determine the outcomes of British politics for many years. These outcomes are only now beginning to manifest themselves.

Along with the general narrative of the 2019 election, there are sections in the book which focus on matters associated with the devolved governments of the UK, notably the issue of a further referendum on independence in Scotland. Hindsight would suggest that more space could have been given to the matter of Northern Ireland, especially the issues of border control and trading between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, along with the possible implications for the Northern Ireland Peace Accord.

Further material explained and evaluated the matter of the role of the media and the blurring together of broadcast and online campaign coverage. There is a chapter analysing the election result at the individual level, as well as geographical patterns of voting. The book contains a retrospective of the election, but little by way of speculation on its aftermath. The latter might well have been most interesting in the light of subsequent events.

Andrew Rawnsley, a highly respected journalist and the Chief Political Commentator of The Observer, gives a rather brief, yet overarching opinion of the book when he states that it is “The authoritative account by an alpha team of political scientist. Lucid explanation of complex events and forces is combined with penetrating analysis of the causes and effects of a highly consequential election.”

The book has an impressive list of figures, tables, and illustrations, with a welcome gallery of pictures placed prior to Chapter 1. The book runs to over 600 pages of political narrative and Appendices, with sufficient statistics interspersed with the storyline to satisfy the most avid aficionado of the same. The present writer was particularly appreciative of “Chapter 4: The Man Who Wasn’t There – Labour Under Corbyn”, and “Chapter 6: Get Brexit Done – The National Campaign”.

This book, “Get Brexit Done: The British General Election of 2019”, is surely the definitive account of one of the most controversial and consequential general elections of recent times, when a man called Boris “gambled everything on calling an early election to ‘Get Brexit Done’; and emerged triumphant.

This was history in the making, and so it has continued – though its ramifications for the British people and their political system, as well as for the nation’s place in the world, have yet to be fully unravelled and understood.


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Time for change

Within the next few days, parents across the country will be waiting for information that tells them which primary school their children will be assigned. The event is usually termed “primary school offer day in England”.

For many parents the news on the offer day will be good. Their children will be successful in getting a place in a school of their priority choice. Other parents will not be so fortunate and may have to settle for a school that is lower down the list of priorities. Unfortunately, every year there are families that are left with no choice but, contrary to their personal faith or no faith at all, to send their child to a faith school. Alternatively, they may be unable to access their local schools because of religious discrimination.

The National Secular (NSS) society works for the separation of religion and state and equal respect for everyone’s human rights so that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged on account of their beliefs. To this end the NSS is holding a conference on Saturday, 1st May 2022, on the subject “Towards an inclusive education in Northern Ireland”.  It is hoped that 2022 could be a turning point for inclusive education in Northern Ireland.

According to research by the NSS, an average of nine thousand pupils a year are assigned faith primary schools against their families’ preferences, and 30% of families live in areas of high or extreme restrictions on the choice of a non-faith primary school.

Over against such situations are described above, it is welcome news to hear that a former Catholic school in Northern Ireland has reopened as an integrated one, meaning it will educate children from various religious backgrounds together, for the first time in Northern Ireland.

Seaview Primary School, in Glenarm, County Antrim, opened recently as Seaview Integrated Primary School.

Integrated schools aim to enrol similar proportions of pupils from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, along with students from other religious backgrounds. Only around seven per cent of pupils in NI currently attend integrated schools, with more than 90% going to schools which are de facto segregated on religious lines.

Plans to transform Seaview Primary’s status were approved by the Northern Ireland education minister in March of this year. The move, which was supported by the NSS’s No More Faith Schools Campaign, was backed by 95% of eligible parents in a vote in 2019. Efforts to integrate schools in Northern Ireland have been ongoing.  Most state schools in NI are either maintained schools – as Seaview was – or controlled schools. Maintained schools predominantly serve children from Catholic backgrounds, while controlled schools predominantly serve children from Protestant backgrounds. Grammar schools are also generally divided by faith.

In recent years there have been several more proposals to integrate schools. Some of these have failed, with church ownership of maintained schools proving a potential barrier to integration.

A major review of education in Northern Ireland, which is currently getting started, is set to consider issues including the integration of schools. A recent poll found that more than seven in 10 people in Northern Ireland support efforts to make an integrated education the norm, with 73% saying they would support their child’s school or their local school becoming integrated.

The coordinator of the NSS’s No More Faith Schools campaign, Alastair Lichten, welcomed Seaview reopening as an integrated school.

He said, “It’s heartening to see a school open which will teach children from different backgrounds together, and value them equally. Seaview will serve as a reminder that meaningful change is possible, even in a strongly segregated education system where religious interests exercise considerable power.

“There is strong grassroots support for integrated education in Northern Ireland, and strong evidence that segregating schools on religious lines creates unfairness and inefficiency. Politicians in NI should take bold action to tackle these problems, and they should be prepared to confront churches’ entrenched interests where necessary.”

With this example of movements towards integrated education in Northern Ireland, and also being a former teacher in a Northampton state secondary school, I was encouraged to examine the situation in my personal local authority, West Northamptonshire. I discovered the following:

*     25% of families have little choice but a faith-based primary school.

That is below the national average of 30%

*     6% of families have little choice but a faith-based secondary school.

That is significantly below the national average of 10%

*     236 pupils were assigned faith schools against their families’ preferences.

In terms of percentage of applicants, that is significantly above the national average

*     35% of schools are faith based.

That is around the national average 

Therefore, the situation which generally exists in most local authorities across the country, is reflected in my local education authority. However, that represents an overall situation where faith-based schools exert a considerable influence on children’s education in England. It also highlights the role of religion in restricting personal freedom in general.

This influence is further strengthened by the fact that “charitable status” is given to wealthy private schools, many of which are faith-based. So too, the presence and influence of the Church of England bishops in the House of Lords cannot be ignored in seeking to explain the extent and power of faith-based education, as well as the controversial issue of the continuing role of collective worship in state education.

The foregoing may not be in the forefront of parental minds as they await, and then receive, offers for schools to which to send their children. It is an anxious time for many of these parents, and this anxiety is nurtured by the fact of the undesirable place afforded state education by faith-based schools. Surely now is the time, as with the Seaview Primary School in Northern Ireland, for a change in the status of faith-based schools in England. The textbook needs to be re-written.

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Two who made a difference

Two memorial services have been held in the past few days.

The first service took place in London. It was for Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. He was the consort of the British monarch from Elizabeth’s accession on 6th February 1952, until his death in April 2021, aged 99, making him the longest serving royal consort in history. The second service was held on the other side of the world, in Melbourne, Australia. It was for the former Australian cricket player, Shane Warne, who died, aged 52, on 2nd March this year.

Shane Warne, known widely as “Warnie”, earned cricketing fame as a right-arm, leg-spin bowler. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest, bowlers in cricket history, with few, if any peers in the art of spin bowling. He is often referred to as the “King of Spin”. In 2000 he was selected by a panel of cricket experts as one of five Wisden Cricketers of the Century. Amongst the five, he was the only specialist bowler, and the only one still playing the game of cricket at the time. So too, of the five cricket players listed, he was the only one not to be knighted. One can only surmise that, had he lived on, he may also have been given this honour.

The Duke of Edinburgh died after a lifetime of what could be described as a prolonged period of “loyal service to the monarch and the British people”. He was someone who could identify with the aspirations of the people whom he served, if not be one of them. Whilst much of his time was spent fulfilling the duties of his station, Philip, the father of a daughter and three sons, engaged in a variety of philanthropic endeavours. He served as the President of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from 1981 to 1996, and his International Award Programme (The Duke of Edinburgh Scheme) enabled more than six million young adults to engage in community service, leadership development, and physical fitness activities. In 2011, to mark his 90th birthday, Queen Elizabeth conferred on him the title and office of Lord High Admiral, titular head of the Royal Navy. His last solo event took place on 2nd August 2017. His death was mourned by many throughout the world.

After retiring from cricket, Warne worked for the Shane Warne Foundation that assisted seriously ill and underprivileged children. He was widely praised for this work, and a known trademark of his character was that “he was a bloke who was always available for people.” The charity was launched in 2004 and distributed many thousands of pounds, with activities that included a charity poker tournament. This was so characteristic of the person that was Shane Warne. Unfortunately, due to financial problems, the charity closed in 2017. Warne had three children with Simone Callahan, to whom he was married from 1995 to 2005.

Outside of cricket, Warne lived what could be described as a very colourful life. He once described himself as a person who “smoked a little, drank a little, and bowled leg spin”. He also did a bit of gambling, as well as seemingly having an inevitable, ongoing, and magnetic attraction to women. His name was linked with a variety of celebrity figures in sport, entertainment, and the movies. He once commented that “My years with Elizabeth (the English actress, Elizabeth Hurley) were the happiest of my life.”

Shane Warne was a man of flaws, but not so flawed that he could not recognise them. In the one of the many clips doing the rounds this week, he said: “We are all human, we all make mistakes. Some of us have made more than others. It doesn’t mean we are bad people. Sure, there are things we would like to change along the way – but we can’t so we have got to learn to live with them and confront them and try to learn from them. Through some poor choices I’ve had some pretty tough times that I will have to live with for the rest of my life.” He was certainly a man of the people.

In August 2021, Warne was placed on a ventilator when he contracted COVID-19, “to make sure there were no longer-lasting effects” from the virus. At the time he was quoted as saying that “Australians will have to learn live with the virus.” Within a year Shane Warne had died from a heart attack while on holiday at a villa on the island of Ko Samui in Thailand. His death was mourned by millions of people throughout the world, within the cricketing community and wider.

The funeral service of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The service was conducted by the Dean of Windsor, with the Benediction pronounced by the leading bishop of that church, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The service was attended by royalty, leading figures in politics, the Church, and civil society. It was a religious service, with music appropriate for such a ceremony, most of which was from the sacred and classical traditions. It was entitled “A Ceremonial Royal Funeral”, not a “State Funeral”. Despite the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, state funerals are normally reserved for monarchs.

Warne’s private funeral took place at the St Kilda Football (Australian Rules) Club headquarters in Melbourne on 20th March 2022. The mourners were led by his parents and three adult children, with around 100 persons, including former teammates and sporting figures, in attendance. He was further honoured with a State Memorial event at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 30th March. This event attracted around 50,000 people from all walks of life to the MCG, including the ordinary Australians to whom he undoubtedly gave so much sporting and personal pleasure. On this occasion, the music was more reflective of those with whom he had shared many of life’s aspects. Perhaps the one sacred consolation was the final song, Andre Bocelli’s “My Prayer” – sung, with evocative violin accompaniment, to a silent MCG that had once resounded to the cricketing glories of the undisputed “King of Spin”.

Two men from different backgrounds and cultures, each of whom were admired by many, adored by some, who, each in his own peculiar way, lived his life in a way that made a difference to the lives of others. Each with an epitaph worth the value of its words. RIP.

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A relic of the past

Occasionally, an item arrives in the email inbox that enables an individual to do something to correct one of the many of the wrongs, as personally perceived, with the society in which we live. Such was the case recently when I received an email from the National Secular Society (NSS), a movement of which I am a member. The item had to do with a campaign being conducted by the NSS for the Westminster government to abolish the Chancel Repair Liability (CRL), otherwise known as the Chancel Tax.

In what follows I acknowledge the information from the NSS campaign against the CRL as being my main source of information.

The CRL goes back to the time of Henry VIII and ecclesiastical laws that gives some Anglican churches the right to demand local property owners, including domestic landowners, to make financial contributions towards repairs to their church chancels. The ‘Chancel’ is that part of an Anglican church building near the altar. It is an area reserved exclusively for clergy and choir, yet whose repair bills are to be paid from what could be described as ‘public funding’ – from ordinary church adherents who are not so privileged. Further, the chancel liability is due irrespective of the landowners being Anglican, or otherwise, and applies even if they are not (and have never been) Christians!

The situation in respect to the CRL is a long and complex legal process that goes back to the time around 1536 when rectoral land, usurped by Henry VIII from the Roman Catholic Church, was sold off to owners who were normally close to the church. Such owners were designated, without any exclusion clause, as “lay rectors”. It was these owners who were part responsible for the repair of the churches.

The Church of England can demand, in some cases, payment for the full cost of repairs, which can, be, for such ancient church buildings, very substantial, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds. A major consequence of this demand by the Church of England is that the presence of the CRL can be harmful, even destructive, for some property owners and require them to take out insurance against the risk of the Church claiming the money for expensive repairs. The liability continues even after the property is sold (the new landowner takes on the responsibility for the liability). Few potential buyers will contemplate taking on the burden of a property with CRL. Consequently, the value of most properties subject to CRL will be blighted and, in some cases, they may even become unsellable. Some homeowners have been understandably traumatised when they discover that their biggest asset had become significantly devalued.

It is instructive to reflect on a case study of when the issue of CRL first hit the headlines in 2003. The story concerned Andrew and Gail Wallbank. The Wallbanks received a demand for almost £100,000 to fund repairs of their local medieval church at Aston Cantlow, a village in Warwickshire. After a protracted legal battle, which was taken right to the House of Lords, the Wallbanks lost their appeal against the demand and faced a £350,000 bill – including legal costs. They were forced to sell their whole farm to pay for it. Talk about adding insult to injury!

Until this case, this legal anachronism had largely been forgotten and had been little exercised for centuries. Many purchasers of land were simply not aware of it. CRL was not generally mentioned in deeds, but despite this anomaly, the original ecclesiastical liability can still be enforced. Following the Wallbanks’ case, the Government introduced a registration procedure enabling CRL to be shown on Land Registry documents. A small advance.

According to the Land Registry, property in around 5,300 parishes in England and Wales is subject to CRL. Not all affected property is close to the church. Notwithstanding, thousands of homeowners around the country have been notified by the Land Registry that they are liable to pay the CRL. Not all of them are aware of how damaging these notices are likely to be to their property… and to their bank accounts!

As long ago as 1985, the Law Commission described the impact of CRL as “wholly capricious” and considered “that this relic of the past is.… no longer acceptable”. Its report concluded: “It is hard today to see any justification for this imposition”. Both the Law Commission and, more recently, the Law Society, have recommended that the only equitable solution is for CRL to be phased out. Even the Church of England’s General Synod overwhelmingly supported the abolition of CRL in 1982. Despite all this, abolition has not taken place. This is primarily because the Church has changed its mind and is not now willing to forgo any revenue to repair its many ancient churches, regardless of the unfairness, hardship and distress caused to many.

The argument generally advanced for the retention of CRL is that it is a civil liability that landowners should have known about, although there are some who obviously who did not. It is possible that the land was purchased at a discount in recognition of the liability, but this will be rare. The Church points out that it is responsible for maintaining 45% of the Grade I Listed Buildings in the country and the majority of all the parish churches are Grade II or higher, that it is unable to maintain these heritage buildings unaided, and so is reluctant to give up any source of income. Surely this is an inordinate concern for money and land. One can only wonder at this continuing attitude of what purports to be the ‘State’ church – the church of the people!

The NSS has highlighted the gross inequality of the CRL to the Government at ministerial level, but it seems clear that the Government is not prepared to initiate any abolition of the CRL, unless requested to do so by the Anglican Church. This seems very much a case of the cart before the horse. Furthermore, whilst the NSS values the great contribution to the English heritage that ancient churches make, it is also of the view that it is completely unfair that money for repairing them can be demanded simply on the grounds of what the Law Commission further describes as “anomalous, uncertain and obscure law.”

The NSS is continuing to campaign energetically for abolition of this deeply unfair and anachronistic liability. Nevertheless, recognising that this may have to be a medium-term goal, it is also seeking to broker solutions which in the meantime mitigate the most inequitable impositions of CRL. This work has been undertaken by conversations, meetings and correspondence with the relevant government Minister and the head of civil law at the Ministry of Justice, as well as with MPs, parliamentarians, specialist lawyers, and other interested parties.

CRL is a gross anachronism and an inequity that has no place in a 21st century democracy. That Church of England parishes alone can impose such an obligation on others, regardless of their religious affiliations, is totally at variance with the modern concept of justice. Despite all this, CRL remains, largely because no government has been prepared either to take over and fund the amounts the Church would levy on landowners for CRL, or to pass legislation to abolish CRL. So, this outmoded system remains a privilege, amongst others, that is afforded an unrepresentative Church of England. It is an ecclesiastical scandal.

For the above reasons, and others, it is surely time that this ancient law is consigned to the annals of history, if not to the Church of England’s rubbish bin, and a fairer way is found to preserve a heritage that is, perhaps, not so common as the Church of England might believe it to be.


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