Boris Johnson has gone. His farewell speech on the steps of Downing Street was a classic of the ‘boosterism’ genre, but quite unmemorable (apart from a reference to his feeling like Cincinnatus leaving to plough his farm [who subsequently returned to power in Rome when the call came]). He sang his own praises, shook a dozen hands, and jetted off to Balmoral to tender his resignation to the Queen, no doubt musing ‘Why did they get rid of me?’.
Liz Truss has kissed hands with the Queen and been invited to form a government. She is Her Majesty’s 15th prime minister; the third woman to hold that office, and the first to be styled ‘Ms’. Two previous prime ministers have been educated in non-selective schools (Ramsay MacDonald and David Lloyd George in the 1870s), but they were church schools: Liz Truss will be the first prime minister to have been educated in a non-selective ‘secular’ school, and perhaps her declared values reflect that: “I share the values of the Christian faith and the Church of England, but I’m not a regular practising religious person.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury has tweeted his good wishes and prayers: “I am praying for Liz Truss as she takes on the great responsibilities of leadership at a time of such significant challenges,” said Justin Welby. “May God guide her, and all who serve in our political life, towards His hope for our nation, and particular care for those who are vulnerable.”
At least he didn’t say: ‘..and particular care for those who are going to Rwanda‘.
And the Archbishop of York has also tweeted: “Please join me in praying for Liz Truss and our government, and for all who on our behalf carry great responsibility to serve our communities.”
No doubt quite a few bishops and other clergy have already made up their minds about Liz Truss, having determined that she is a shallow, shape-shifting, incompetent, racist, homophobic, transphobic Tory bigot, who looks after the rich and hates the poor. Others may be more generous, and are prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt at least for a week or so – just to see how she will give “particular care for those who are vulnerable”, which, in the midst of a cost of living crisis with soaring inflation and energy bills, amounts to millions of ordinary people who would not otherwise be vulnerable at all.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev’d Graham Usher, in whose diocese Ms Truss’s constituency of South West Norfolk is situated, tweeted: “As Norfolk MP @trussliz prepares for huge responsibility, I hope & pray that she will be a Prime Minister who leads with much “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” Individual lives & nations flourish more with these values.”
They do indeed (as do churches), but these values won’t win the war against Putin, and Ms Truss needs to be given space and time to continue Boris Johnson’s crucial mission to Ukraine. Politics is a ruthless business, and sometimes you have to put a bit of stick about.
Not many know that Liz Truss’s uncles is a Church of England priest. He is actually now retired, but retains permission to officiate. He said his niece has liberalism in her blood. Her great-grandfather “used to turn up and campaign for the Liberals before the First World War, so it’s kind of in the genes. I think our family, her father and I, have always been liberal. I call myself liberal, which can be used as a term of abuse sometimes. I mean the sense of being open and concerned for those who are in need.”
It is no bad thing to have liberalism in the blood: Mrs Thatcher had a few pints coursing through her veins. The Whig/Tory tensions live on in the liberal/conservative coalition that is called the Conservative and Unionist Party. And as long as that coalition is sustained, the party will morph to the disposition of its leader. It is this adaptability which has permitted it to become the most successful election-fighting and power-holding force in this history of democracy.
When he retired in 2008, the Rev’d Canon Richard Truss gave an interview which revealed his passions and priorities.
He values the Arts, and was Chaplain to the National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall, London Weekend Television and The Old Vic.
He has compassion for the poor and homeless, and did something about it. Faced with having to clean up all the needles and excrement outside his church every morning:
Change began when one of the men volunteered to help. “His name was Bill Holly. He is one of my saints. We put him up in church and he became our caretaker. He was confirmed. But he had one small vice. He collapsed at the bookies in The Cut with a smile on his face. It was the only time he had won. But he died.”
He cares about affordable homes, having campaigned against the sale of housing and property owned by the Church Commissioners. He was unsuccessful, but at least he tried. He chaired the Waterloo Community Regeneration Trust whose legacy includes the Waterloo Time Bank and SE1 United. “I think we did some good things in Waterloo,” he says. “We put money into the Millennium Green.”
Baroness (Kate) Hoey described him as “always on the right side” and “an amazingly involved vicar who will be missed terribly”.
And in a guest editorial he wrote earlier this year, he wrote of his belief that the Church must continue to speak truth to power, and work for tirelessly for reconciliation:
Where is the church’s voice in public affairs? We do see occasional episcopal pronouncements, and occasional letters in the press. But most of the attention the past year, when any has surfaced at all, has not been on what the church and theology might have to say to the rest of society, but on what is seen as the dire state of the Church itself – the future of the parish, the financial crisis and even conjectures as to whether it can survive at all? When tempted to join in this Eeyore-like gloom, I remind myself of Thomas Arnold’s famous aphorism from the early nineteenth century that ‘The church as it now stands, no human power can save’, but whether by God’s grace or through sheer inertia, we are still here.
And he warns Christians about the need to avoid speaking ‘foolishness to the Greeks’, which is also a lesson for politicians and economists:
Any of us involved in the theological world need to relearn the common tongue, because unless we do so, we will be doomed to irrelevance. There are lively and mutual enriching debates going on between theologians and scientists of all sorts, and between religion and the arts, but above all we need a fearless theological input into the world of politics and economics.
But the Christians who do economics all seem to lean toward socialism. One wonders why there are so few public theologians prepared to entertain the virtues of capitalism and the free market. Perhaps…
Part of the problem lies in a false antithesis between the sacred and the secular which still persists. You may recall the attacks on Bishop David Jenkins after he had the gall to bring the matter of the bitter miners’ strike of 1985 into his enthronement sermon, referring to the then chairman of the Coal Board as ‘an elderly imported American’. One M.P. retorted that ‘I would rather have an imported American who knows something about the industry, than a bishop who seems to know little about Christianity’, whilst another laid down the episcopal role in no uncertain terms: ‘His duty is to save souls and not to preach socialism’.
And so we come full circle; from the Thatcher/Runcie antagonism, through the intervening decades of Tory/CofE disagreement, to the anticipated Truss/Welby tension, for it will surely come. And so it should, because iron sharpens iron, and it is important to speak to truth to power. But why, you may ask, should Liz Truss listen to her Uncle Richard, when he sounds pretty much like every other left-wing vicar that populates the pulpits (and sits in the cathedrals) of England’s Established Church?
And the answer lies in his essential disposition: he isn’t against her, but for her; he doesn’t want her to fail, but to succeed. Perhaps not entirely politically (though he may cohere with most of her essential liberal instincts), but he is for her in the way that all Christians are exhorted to be for their leaders.
The Rev’d Marcus Walker exhorts a prayer by Lancelot Andrewes for good governance, which he would like to be said every day in 10 Downing Street:
You may cavil with ’eminent’ and ‘virtue’, and some will doubtless baulk at being “subject unto [Tory] rule..for conscience’s sake”. But that’s what democracy demands. By all means agitate for change, but not by despising, denigrating, slandering or cursing. Truth and love work best.
Being the Prime Minister’s uncle, the Rev’d Canon Richard Truss loves his niece. He addresses her kindly and respectfully, and speaks about her with consideration for her Office and compassion for the burdens she carries. Perhaps if more Church of England bishops and other clergy spoke to and about Tory politicians as the Bishop of Norwich exhorts the new Prime Minister to model, that is with much “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”, then Church-State relations will flourish – even as they each put a bit of stick about.