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Thursday, 9 June 2011

All gas and gaiters

Like the Chief Rabbi, I am a strong opponent of the disestablishment of the Church of England. You might ask what I think the Church of England has to do with me. Well, one answer is that it has a lot to do with all English people, of all faiths and of none. Another answer is that my Dad was born into an Anglican family, and although, he, like me, is basically an agnostic, I'm descended from generations of members of the Church of England, and I take that connection seriously. Few things amuse me more than adopting a conservative stance on things like the use of the traditional hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer at those Anglican weddings, funerals and christenings that I find myself attending. This despite the fact that it is absolutely none of my business how my Christian friends and relations worship, as I am not a Christian, I am Jewish, as my mother is Jewish and I was raised as a member of a synagogue, attending most weeks when I was a kid and still popping along to whichever shul takes my fancy once a year or so, usually at Yom Kippur.

One of the sins for which Jews atone at Yom Kippur is the sin of attending "useless conferences". Clearly, as a Liberal Democrat, I have never attended a useless conference, and have only ever been at conferences that are very useful indeed. This means that I don't need to atone for that particular sin, and so can spend more of the day atoning for my other sins, which is a good thing, as one day really isn't enough to atone for all of the dreadful sins that I have committed in the previous year, many of which sadly involve sausage rolls, Greggs the Baker and my ability to resist everything except temptation.

So, yes, as well as being a monarchist, and increasingly agreeing with Evelyn Waugh that it is quite impertinent of me to use my vote to advise the Sovereign on whom she wishes to form a government, I am a proud antidisestablishmentarian. Should the fateful day ever come when a Liberal Democrat Conference again wastes its time and mine debating disestablishmentarianism, I shall insist that the remit of the debate is extended to include a discussion of the arguments for and against the disestablishment of the United Synagogue, which was established (note that word) by an Act of Parliament in 1870. I do not favour any such disestablishment, but we surely couldn't debate the separation of church and state without also debating the separation of synagogue and state (a burning issue on which passions run so high that it generates almost as many fights in pubs as did last month's referendum on the Alternative Vote). One has to hope that the day on which such a silly conference debate takes place is a distant one indeed. Incidentally, this is all quite separate from the Coalition Government's mooting of various reforms of the monarchy, which I am more than happy to support.

So, the world is on fire, but, apparently, the most important news in the world today is that the Archbishop of Canterbury has written an article in the New Statesman. I rather like Rowan Williams, not least because he is the only person, apart from myself, who still has anything nice to say about a 1988 Doctor Who story called The Happiness Patrol, to which, gloriously, Dr Williams referred, quite clearly and in so many words, in his 2011 Easter Sermon, demonstrating that, if nothing else, he has no fear of descending with me into the depths of utter bathos. I even like his New Statesman article, which warns of the problems facing our democracy, the challenges facing this Coalition Government and the fact that "we are still waiting for a full and robust account of what the left would do differently". Thinking aloud and posing challenges is what religious leaders are for, even if some people don't always like it. The Government need tremble neither at Dr Williams' words, nor at Lord Sacks having written, in the same issue of the New Statesman, that: "Philanthropy alone cannot fill the gap left by government cutbacks." It is nothing more (nor less) than an interesting contribution to the debate, from which the media circus will have moved on within days.

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