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Stack on the Back

Bolshie bishops

(May 1994)

From Socialist Review, No. 175, May 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

‘Yet every time a British bishop opens his gob,
the press and politicians get into a real lather’

I normally take very little notice of bishops. It has always seemed strange to me how in England there is such fuss and controversy over what they have to say.

I don’t think I know any churchgoing C of E member. Indeed, in the 20 years or so that I’ve lived here I can hardly think of anyone who I could describe as a devout member of the C of E flock.

Yet still every time a British bishop opens his gob, the press and politicians get into a real lather. Frequently it has been the Bishop of Durham who seems to have been the main cause of this tremendous din, but every now and then one or other of the archbishops of Canterbury causes a storm in a chalice.

The present archbishop of Canterbury, Carey, was appointed by Thatcher in the hope of getting the bishops to stick to mumbo jumbo and keep their noses out of political and social questions.

Carey seemed just the man for the job, a conservative revivalist who seemed happier walloping hell out of a tambourine and roaring on about meeting somebody or other at the river than talking about unemployment or poverty.

Alas, so bad is today’s Tory Britain that even Carey has on occasions been forced to acknowledge what’s happening down by the Thames rather than by the rivers of Babylon.

This acknowledgement has caused more than one important voice to be raised in anger. For Carey has dared to challenge the pride that so many feel in this great nation.

‘We have lost’, the holy man sadly declares, ‘nearly all our navy and air force. Our education system is pretty mediocre. We’re a pretty ordinary little nation.’

How could he say such a thing? Was there no one who could rescue the country in this its darkest hour?

Well yes, there was actually. A friend advised me to get hold of a copy of the Sun. Now this is a paper I avoid at all costs. Not even the old ‘I only get it for the sport’ excuse will do where this rag is concerned. Nevertheless according to my friend the Sun was coming to the aid of the nation, so I thought I’d better take a look.

Sure enough here was the sterling defence. The editorial column ran a section entitled ‘Bish bosh’ which came up with the amazingly original clarion call, ‘This country is not called GREAT Britain for nothing’. The originality was only slightly spoiled by the fact that Carey had actually named England, not Britain.

More worrying were some rather unpatriotic concessions that the editorial made to the bolshie bishop: ‘Maybe there are potholes in the road, the streets could be cleaner and the recession has closed factories, offices and shops.’

Mmm, quite. So what was there left to defend about this bumpy country full of litter, closed factories, empty offices, and ne’er a shop in sight?

Well, right next to the editorial the Sun lined up no fewer than ten GREAT Brits to defend England. Each one chose their list of things that make Britain great.

Inspiring stuff it was too.

There was Sir David Frost, once the scourge of the establishment, claiming that what made Britain great was that we were ‘the world’s leading manufacturer of cricket bats’.

So there you have it. Britain is great at producing bats for a game that is played seriously in no more than nine countries in the world. He didn’t mention England’s standing when wielding this bat, presumably because they are only ninth best at doing so.

Then we have the case for the defence as put by the world’s finest movie director, Michael Winner. ‘The British police are the best.’ Er yes well, Michael forgets to mention at what. It certainly isn’t at preventing or detecting crime, nor, let me assure you, at directing traffic, but I would guess that they have few equals when it comes to fitting people up. Maybe that’s what Michael means.

The rest of the great and the good cite equally bizarre reasons. Ruthie Henshaw (I must admit I haven’t a clue who Ruthie is) cites the royal family – nuff said.

Karen Brady, the first woman boss of a football club, cites British football. We’ll see if she’s right this summer (oops, no we won’t, none of them were even good enough to qualify). Rhodes Boyson cites the two great varsities, Oxford and Cambridge. Frank Bruno cites the health and education services (pity he keeps supporting the party that’s doing its best to destroy both).

Falklands veteran Simon Weston admires a sort of modern version of the Dunkirk spirit. James Fox goes for actors, and the head of the stock exchange, amazingly enough, goes for the stock exchange. Tony Loynes of UK Press Gazette gives the finest example of all – the Sun!

To this sad list Stack on the Back would like to add its own list of cliches. What about Wellington, Nelson, Churchill, Len Hutton, Bobby Moore, Paul Daniels and Russ Conway? Or the British Empire, and Waterloo, Trafalgar, Dunkirk, two world wars and one World Cup?

Ah yes, there’ll always be an England, and there’ll always be a bunch of celebrities, groups of politicians, and hysterical newspaper editors making utter fools of themselves desperately flying the flag for a ‘pretty ordinary little nation’.

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