Thursday, 14 March 2013

Those in Glass Houses

Over the last few years the Clergy have been increasingly vocal in their voicing of political views. The last Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams seemed drawn to public political statements like a moth to a flame. Bishops positioning themselves for high office it seems likewise like to make tactically timed public comment about Government policy. It seems the new spiritual leader of the Church of England is no different.

Whenever I hear a churchman talking about the ills of Government policy I cannot help but think of gay-yet-gay-bashing paedophiles hurling sanctimonious stones out of their glass houses. Just saying - it's the image that pops up. I wonder perhaps if they might consider staying on line for a spell and putting their own houses in order?

Now as Iain Duncan-Smith pointed out this week, it is certainly right that church leaders (and all men and women of the cloth) are concerned for their flock and indeed those outside it, especially the meek, poor, weak and needy that the Bible and other religious texts points out could do with some help. But it is the manner of their intervention that is so unseemly.

A few weeks ago the Bishop of Liverpool condemned the Government because the welfare cuts fell disproportionately on the poor. Yes. They do. Because poor people use welfare more than rich people. It is a non-point. The fact is most public money goes to those with less (it's the hallmark of a generous and humane society), but that does mean that cuts in this largesse will also work in the reverse. It is disingenuous and moronic to pretend it is a ghastly thing or indeed avoidable.

If the Government spent public money on providing Beluga caviar and Cristal champagne for all those earning £200,000 a year, it would be eminently sensible to cut that budget first. But they don't. The fact remains that the rich subsidise the poor through taxation, and take little draw on the public coffers, so cutting their take is pretty tricky. When it comes to decreasing spending (and it is clear that must happen, because our economy and therefore tax take is not about to jump 15% to cover the shortfall between spending and income) the Government can only decrease what it does spend money on, which naturally is stuff that more poorer people benefit from.

The other side of the coin is certainly the question of whether more money could or should be extracted from the richer in society. But, as mentioned here before, with some of the highest tax rates in the world, not only are "the rich" already doing more than their moral "fair share", but they also will not produce more by an increase in taxation. We are already well beyond optimal levels of taxation for money gathering and economic growth purposes. Pretty much all tax rises now are essentially economically self-defeating in the long term and politically- (masked as morally-) motivated in the short term.

The latest church intervention by Justin Welby mirrored these type of comments, condemning the welfare reforms for sharing the burden incorrectly. He is right it is shared incorrectly, but not in the right direction - half the tax collected in this country already comes from just 5% of us and 1/2 of us take more than we give. He has rowed back somewhat since his comments last weekend, qualifying that the welfare system is shot to pieces and requires reform, but he is still out of lane.

If he thinks his words were not political or guaranteed to be used politically, he is far to naive for Lambeth Palace. The church's (all churches, not just C of E) place is not in politics, despite (no more obvious now than with the recent Papal elections) politics being rife within the church. It would do well to tend to its own dwindling flock and its failings than try to draw attention away by one-eyed, economically unsound political point scoring to divert attention and raise personal profiles. If they really want to help the poor, they could always sell some of their lovely golden clothes...

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