House of Lords reform – who would vote for a bishop?
In an age of devolution, what constitutional, legal or moral right does a Scot have to tamper with the customs and laws and of England?
In typical Blairite ‘Third Way’ fashion, in order to avoid a constitutional crisis, the bishops are not to be physically removed: they will retain the trappings of power, but lose their right to vote. Like Parliament itself - that erstwhile 'origin of all just power' - they will seem to have authority, but possess none. They will retain their pulpit, but lose their potency. They will simply be part of a talking shop; legislators whose sovereignty has been removed. The judgement of God upon King Nebuchadnezzar is a constant reminder that the kingdoms of the earth belong to the Lord and that sovereignty may indeed be removed. And for the moral disablement of Parliament and the subjection of its omnipotence to foreign potentates, the emasculation of the Lords Spiritual and the demotion of the Church of England simply follow that endured by the Lords Temporal and the Commons, not to mention the judiciary, the civil service, the Monarchy and the BBC.
Perhaps this is judgement. After all, few bishops have contributed much of any value since the theological colleges began to make ecumenical socialism an article of faith, and elevated The Guardian to the status of holy writ. And those who dare to hold Conservative convictions are obliged to hide their light under a bushel lest they suffer the same fate as the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali.
But the Church is divided on the issue.
On the one hand, there are those who believe that if the Church loses its privileged place in the House of Lords, the Christian faith will be further marginalised. Canon David Houlding, a member of the Archbishops’ Council, said: “This is a punch to the solar plexus. It is a direct threat to the establishment of the Church. The Bishops provide a crucial voice for an important strand of life of this country, and if you strip them of their vote that voice is destroyed.’
And on the other hand is the voice of the Rev Colin Coward, a Salisbury cleric, who believes: ‘There should be a fully elected second chamber and Bishops should be eligible for election like everyone else.’
But who would vote for a bishop?
By what mechanism would he (for a ‘he’ it would be) be elected? PR? FPTP? STV? AV? Drawing straws? Prayer?
Cranmer knows of only one bishop who might be likely to win by popular vote, and he is a man whom David Cameron ought to elevate to the House of Lords in his own right.
And would Bradford, Oldham or Leicester get to vote for their local imam instead?
Might the likes of Abu Hamza become a Lord Spiritual?
If not, surely this is religious discrimination and subject to the Human Rights agenda incorporated into UK law in order to halt the stead stream of appeals to the European Courts?
The proposals for reform are due to be unveiled by the Government later this month. Jack Straw will have the honour, and will doubtless be supported by the usual secularising suspects (including, now, John Bercow as Speaker). Cranmer hopes and expects that Dominic Grieve will resist every move to weaken the position of the Established Church, or at least frustrate and delay the plans in order to ensure that there is an election before any proposals reach the Statute Books.
It is fortuitous that today the Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, observes: ‘The sad fact is that Britain – which owes so much to its Christian heritage – is increasingly becoming a “cold” place which, as any reflection on the fruit of Christian good works will demonstrate, is not in the general interest of society.’
The anti-Christian coldness is New Labour: Gordon Brown's heart is frozen.
It is time for a thaw.