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By attacking Labour, the Bishops show moral cowardice

Church commissioners hold substantial investments with a hedge fund manager, writes Dominic Lawson.

Not since the days of Margaret Thatcher has the Church of England attacked a Government with such sustained venom. Over the weekend a phalanx of Bishops preached variations on an identical theme.

Following on from The Archbishop of Canterbury’s pre-Christmas attack on the Government’s attempts to get us to spend, spend, spend our way out of recession, this must all come as a bitter blow to Gordon Brown, son of the manse and a man who prides himself on his religiously-inspired moral compass.

When the Bishops criticise the Government for being “beguiled by money” I take it that they have in mind the encouragement Gordon Brown gave to the City of London in its competition with New York and Tokyo as a financial trading centre. Yet Brown did not offer such encouragement as an end in itself, as the Bishops seem to think. He was aware that the taxes paid by the City – amounting to about £20bn a year – were essential if he was to continue the increase in funding of the public services to which he was committed. In this respect, he saw it as a giant recycling exercise, which is perhaps why the Bishops had not seen fit to criticise the policy when the going was good.

It is true that a number of the banks have now had to be bailed out, at great short-term cost to all taxpayers; the Government, however, is charging the banks a 12 per cent annual coupon for the state’s preference shares, so it is anything but a free ride for the “rescued” shareholders. The Church of England’s commissioners will know this only too well, as they hold substantial investments in some of the banks which were the most aggressive and improvident lenders, such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS. Indeed, the Church had also invested heavily in the country’s largest hedge fund manager, Man Group – which regularly engaged in the “short-selling” now anathemetised by the Archbishop of York as the behaviour of “bank-robbers”.

The Church Commissioners also sold a mortgage portfolio for £135m last year, which does not sit entirely easily with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s strictures against trading debts exclusively for profit. Meanwhile Dr Williams’ critique of the spending culture needs to be set against the fact that the gigantic shopping mall known as the MetroCentre was entirely funded by the Church Commissioners (which subsequently sold 90 per cent of its interest for a very decent profit).

It’s not for an atheist to criticise sermons on theological grounds, but I do wonder why the Church of England’s Bishops think it right to criticise the economic policies of the Government, rather than their own parishioners for falling for any alleged encouragement they might have received from Mr Brown to spend too much money. Moral behaviour, after all, is a decision of an individual; it – or indeed what Christians call salvation – cannot be handed down by a beneficent government.

Just to criticise the Government is to hit at the easiest target. In addressing their lectures to Mr Brown, rather than their own errant flock, the Bishops are moral cowards.

Full story at The Independent.

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