Archbishop of Canterbury guest-edits the New Statesman
Dr Williams has commissioned a wide range of essays, articles and reports in conjunction with New Statesman editors for the 80-page special issue, including articles by Philip Pullman, Iain Duncan Smith, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Gordon Brown and Richard Curtis. There is also a short story by A S Byatt, written exclusively for the New Statesman.
Dr Williams has written the leading article for the magazine and also interviewed the Foreign Secretary, William Hague. The pair discuss Libya, the use of torture and Britain’s declining role in the world.
Iain Duncan Smith: We must change our broken benefits system – we owe it to the poorest
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, launches an attack on Britain’s broken welfare state and those who have come to rely solely on it, in an exclusive guest commentary for the New Statesman.
He argues that the root of Britain’s welfare problem is a sense of “entrenched worklessness, produced by a welfare system that penalises positive behaviours while rewarding destructive ones”.
He says that his reforms and the Work Programme will help those stuck in the benefits cycle.
It isn’t kind to a benefit claimant to put them in a house they couldn’t afford to pay for if not on benefits, only adding to the disincentive for them to take a job.
The coalition will crack down on those who refuse to work, he says.
Claimants must be helped and we will do this through the reforms I have outlined, but on behalf of the taxpayer we have a right to expect full co-operation in return. Failure to co-operate will result in a series of penalties, surely reasonable after so much effort has been made on their behalf?
Jonathan Sacks: If you’re searching for the big society, here’s where you may find it
In an exclusive guest column, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that religion already does the “big society’s” job – and does it better. He writes:
A powerful store of social capital still exists. It is called religion: the churches, synagogues and other places of worship that still bring people together in shared belonging and mutual responsibility. The evidence shows that religious people – defined by regular attendance at a place of worship – actually do make better neighbours.
The reason for this is simple, Sacks argues:
Religion creates community, community creates altruism and altruism turns us away from self and towards the common good.
In thinking about religion and society in the 21st century, we should broaden the conversation about faith from doctrinal debates to the larger question of how it might inspire us to strengthen the bonds of belonging that redeem us from our solitude, helping us to construct together a gracious and generous social order.
Philip Pullman: Customs of my tribe
The author Philip Pullman explains why he is a “Church of England atheist” and why he deplores the sex-obsessed “demented barbarians” who are destroying the Church of England’s old liberal tolerance.
When I survey the wondrous mess that the sexophobic zealots in the Anglican Church have tried to bring about in recent years, I feel both distress and anger. None of my business in a way, because I’m not a believer, but at the same time it is my business: because of those memories of mine and because the Church of England is the established church of this nation. It belongs to all of us. We’re all entitled to hold opinions about it.
And these demented barbarians, driven by their single idea that God is as obsessed by sex as they are themselves, are doing their best to destroy what used to be one of the great characteristics of the Church of England, namely a sort of humane liberal tolerance, the quality embodied in the term “broad church”.
Richard Curtis: If the world was run by doctors
The film writer and director Richard Curtis asks why western governments can spend billions on military intervention in Libya but refuse to do the same to win the war against malaria – and ponders on the weirdness of being asked to write an article by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I know I’ve got quirks but, now that I’m 54, I guess I have to accept who I am. I’ll never understand classical music. I’ll never get a glimmer of emotion from any painting by Picasso. I’ll never like fish in any kind of white sauce. And I’ll never understand why malaria is still killing over three-quarters of a million people, most of them young, every year, in this modern world of ours.
What I don’t understand is this: why are the lives at risk in Libya more valuable than the lives we are losing to malaria... I think Cameron should ring up Nicolas and Barack in the middle of the night and say, “Let’s write a letter to the papers again. I think we can do this. By the time we’re out of power, we could save a million – no, if we really focus on it, five million lives a year, for ever.”
When initially commissioned to write the piece, Curtis got his “Rowans” confused and thought that the commission had come from the archbishop’s namesake
It’s a strange thing to be asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to write an article. Particularly strange for me, as I’m one of the few people who would have been confused by his original letter. It asked me to write something for the New Statesman and was signed simply “Rowan”. I assumed that it was from my old friend Rowan Atkinson and, although slightly puzzled by his new, fancy headed notepaper, I ignored it, as you’re allowed to do with old friends. My office then received a prompting call. I reread the letter and realised that it was from a real, clever clergyman, rather than someone who has just acted as stupid clergymen throughout his career.
It was not Curtis’s first brush with an archbishop, however:
I’ve been fairly scared of archbishops, ever since my first encounter with one on a train when I was nine. He sat down opposite me – we were travelling from Ascot to London – and I looked at him a lot. When I was finally convinced that he was Michael Ramsey, the archbishop of Canterbury (the purple dress was something of a giveaway), I asked him a question about God. He couldn’t have looked at me in a more bored manner. He said it was a “very interesting question”, then went straight back to reading his book without giving me an answer. So I was nervous of trying to get in touch with Rowan Not Atkinson and asking him a question, in case I got a similar reply.
Gordon Brown: A plan to teach the world
The former prime minister Gordon Brown attacks the global epidemic of youth unemployment and labels it a “political and moral failure” in an exclusive essay for New Statesman.
The window of opportunity is closing on millions of young people – yet I see little evidence that we have thought through how we can create the jobs that will deal with today’s political instability and economic stagnation. Failure to do so is for me not simply a political but also a moral failure, because it cannot be right that a generation’s chances be stolen before their life’s journey has really begun. Nor can it be right that we should stand by and let that happen when such a result is so readily avoidable.
Brown argues that the solution to this problem lies in education, which is why he has set up the Teach the World network, based on the Teach for America project in the US and Britain’s own Teach First. The global network I propose would act as a skills set transfer, where teachers from one country would help train those in another who have identified gaps in their educational programmes. The result would be a huge rise in teaching standards across the globe.