The Rev’d Canon Dr Alan Billings is a retired vicar of some academic standing: not only was he a member of the respected Youth Justice Board, he was director of the Centre for Ethics and Religion at Lancaster University and vice principal at Ripon College Cuddesdon. He also happens to be a longstanding supporter of the Labour Party (indeed, he co-authored the 1985 report Faith in the City which was highly critical of the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher). As sure as lefty night follows clerical day, he is a frequent guest on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.
Canon Billings was recently selected as Labour’s candidate for South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), to replace the disgraced Shaun Wright, who was embroiled (if not complicit) in the appalling cover-up of the sexual abuse of over 1400 children in Rotherham. Interestingly, the Ukip candidate in this contest is former South Yorkshire police officer of 30-years Jack Clarkson, about whose suitability for the role Canon Billings is unequivocal: “We don’t want a politician for this job and we certainly can’t have a former South Yorkshire police officer”, he writes in a campaign letter.
With the permission of one of the recipients of that letter – Mr Alexander Williams – it is reproduced below:
Canon Dr Alan Billings may be right in his assertion that the people of South Yorkshire might not want a right-wing politician or a right-wing South Yorkshire police officer to be their PCC. But do they want a left-wing Anglican cleric? You see, South Yorkshire Police may have been institutionally indolent and negligent in their duties and obligations to protect the innocent victims of rape and sexual abuse. But the Labour Party is hardly blameless in this still-unfolding horror, is it? Surely, if Jack Clarkson is to be dismissed as a credible candidate because of his membership of and association with South Yorkshire Police, a fortiori Canon Billings ought to be discounted because of his membership of and association with the Labour Party. (We won’t go into what the Church of England has or hasn’t been doing to combat or mitigate child abuse over the past decade).
Alex Williams has responded to Dr Billings’ letter thus (again, with permission):
I take issue with your campaign letter, which has today been delivered, addressed directly to me. Whilst I take issue with the fact that it’s addressed to me, I’ll come back to that later.
First and foremost, by suggesting that a former South Yorkshire Police officer would not be a suitable candidate for the role of PCC, is to suggest that by default, the entire South Yorkshire Police Force was involved in the Rotherham scandal (A scandal YOUR parties cllrs and MPs stood by and watched, knowing full well what was going on) should be sacked and new people hired to do the job. I feel this is neither what you were suggesting, nor a very good idea and thus I fear that this is nothing more, than a deliberate and targeted attack on the UKIP candidate, who is a former South Yorkshire police officer, one with an untarnished record of service, who then went into business himself and has since become an elected councillor. Smear tactics, be they subtle, or be they loud, are unacceptable from a man in your position, seeking the position of PCC!
Secondly, your letter continues the lies that your despicable party, have been spreading throughout the country, that UKIP apparently wish to charge you, to see your GP! I’m utterly flabbergasted, that Labour continue to do this, not only is it a bare-faced lie, but worse than this, the ONLY people to suggest charging for GP visits in recent years, are LABOUR LORDS!
Whilst I am not myself religious, I feel that religious leaders, ESPECIALLY LOCAL religious leaders, have a duty to tell the truth, be honest and upstanding members of society and should NOT in any way shape or form, be involved in the administration, or policing of this nation, but merely a moral compass for those who do. Bearing in mind the lies that you’re telling in order to get elected, I must request that you stand down immediately from your candidacy and allow real democracy to take place.
In regards to the fact that you have sent me a letter directly, I’d like to know exactly how you came across my name and address? My wife has not received a letter, nor my 19 year old step-daughter, both of whom are on the electoral register at this address. I have never been a Labour member, I have never willingly given my contact information to Labour and I have never written to a Labour MP or councillor from this address. Please inform me of how exactly you got my name and address, in order to send me the letter. I strongly suspect you have obtained a copy of the UKIP Doncaster Branch membership information, no doubt considering your conduct thus far, by less than morally acceptable methods, as neither my daughter, nor my wife are UKIP members, simply voters and this is the only likely place I can think of, that you would come across my information, but not theirs.
Mr Williams is not, as he says, a religious man. But observing that Alan Billings elevates himself by signing off with his socio-symbolic Anglican office, Mr Williams says (via Twitter): “It furthers my belief that religion is not exempt from a lack of a moral compass. Willing to tell lies for power.”
By ‘religion’, of course, in this context, he means the Church.
Christian involvement in politics is fraught with tensions. But in Canon Dr Billings, we see once again an evidently intelligent and otherwise thoughtful and discerning man deriding “right-wing” candidates, caricaturing ‘Thatcherism’, spreading disinformation about policy, and content to cut down a Ukip-er with a purposeful character smear. And this particular Ukip-er is a former police officer of considerable character integrity with an impeccable 30-year record in public service. He has served (and continues to serve) for the common good of his community. But in Canon Billings’ enlightened theo-political worldview, the “right-wing” are disqualified from community service by virtue of their narrow and selfish creed of individualism if not their bigoted and racist political philosophy.
The people cry out for politicians they can trust, and, God knows, they need clerics who will speak the truth. By all means, tell it like it is and speak as you find it. But please don’t drag the Church of England through the mud in the process.