The former Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, has agreed to talk to members of Ukip about ‘Magna Carta and the Perfectly Virtuous Pages of our History’. I blogged earlier about the bishop’s bravery in calling on Rome to defend Christians from Islamism, and in the process endorsed the Catholic Ordinariate for ex-Anglicans. But this demonstrates courage of an entirely different order.
The Church of England is divided on the subject of bloodthirsty radical Islam but of one mind when it comes to Ukip: They’re the BNP in blazers and that’s that. Vicars know perfectly well that members of their congregations will vote for Britain’s new third party next year but they’d rather not think about it.
So imagine their paroxysms of cognitive dissonance when they learn that Ukip supporters will be addressed not just by a bishop but by the Church of England’s first non-white diocesan bishop.
Good for him, I say. And well done Peter Whittle, Ukip’s culture spokesman, for organising the event.
The bishop is not associated with Ukip in any way, so far as I know. But he is only too happy to talk about Britain’s Christian culture to supporters of a party whose relationship to the mainstream Churches is roughly that of Samaritans to Pharisees (only less harmonious).
Peter is an old friend of mine and a tremendous force for good: his New Culture Forum has fashioned a patriotic yet unequivocally anti-racist critique of the UK’s arts establishment. But the press release announcing Bishop Nazir-Ali’s talk does not come from the NCF: it is headed ‘Invitation from Ukip Culture Spokesman Peter Whittle’. This is what it says about the speaker:
‘Bishop Michael is the author of numerous books and articles and is a prominent voice in British public life. His latest book, Triple Jeopardy for the West, considers the impact that aggressive secularism, radical Islamism and multiculturalism are having on the Western world, and particularly Britain. He argues that, because of the rejection of the Judaeo-Christian foundations which have shaped so much of the national narrative, these three seemingly diverse pressures are a profound threat to British life. While never denying the deep contribution of varied ethnic, national and religious communities to public life, Bishop Nazir-Ali argues that their stories need to relate to being in Britain and should not be used as an excuse for withdrawal and separation.’
These are arguments that the Tories should be making, but aren’t. Who would have imagined that a Pakistani-born bishop would rise to the challenge? The audience at his talk, scheduled for later this month, will not be limited to ‘kippers’ or even fellow-travellers. But I hope that Ukip members will learn from it. The party has yet to construct much in the way of an ideology – it still defines itself in terms of what it is against. Discussions such as this will, I hope, tip the balance in favour of intellectually curious and open-minded recruits such as Peter Whittle and Douglas Carswell. Meanwhile, just think of all the marmalade dropping on to rectory breakfast tables when our clergy hear the news.