There are few things more enjoyable than when a Leftie
admits, or pretends to admit, he was wrong. We saw
it a year or so ago when Trevor
Phillips, commissar-in-chief of the Commission for
Racial Equality, said that multiculturalism had not been a huge success, and that
those from other cultures who came here were better off
learning to be British.
I think he was sincere. I am less sure about Gordon
Brown, who bores on about Britishness almost daily.
It is the sort of thing that allows a socialist such as
Mr Brown to fake some point of contact with conservative-minded
patriots. It is also his way of trying to hide the
fact that his own party's policies have split up the United
Kingdom and made his position, as a Scot sitting for a
Scottish seat who wants to be Prime Minister mostly of
England, somewhat precarious.
Not all of the Left has, however, twigged that multiculturalism
is rather last century. Someone of whom I had hoped
we had heard the last, the former Archbishop of Canterbury
Lord Carey, made a predictable intervention in this debate
from beyond the grave last weekend. He proclaimed
that the coronation of our next monarch must be an "interfaith"
event. The ceremony must, he added, have "very significant
changes", so that it is "inclusive" of other religions
Lord Carey clearly has in mind what Private Eye would
term a "Rocky Horror" coronation service. Never
mind your archbishops, or even your Christians, your imams,
your rabbis, ayatollahs, your assorted holy men and other
diverse priests, layers-on-of-hands and speakers-in-tongues:
in accordance with the professions of religious belief
on the 2001 census forms, I expect to see a few Jedi knights
in the sanctuary, while devotees of Ras Tafari smoke ganja
at the high altar. And, as one of the realm's noisiest
atheists, I hope for a part in the proceedings, too, that
I might feel "included".
Having long regarded the Church of England as many people
regard EastEnders, I have steeled myself not to intrude
in its private grief, but to lament the largely self-inflicted
decline of this great institution. Though it has,
to my great spiritual regret, nothing to offer me personally,
I can appreciate not merely the potential it has to succour
and strengthen millions of believers, but also its role
in our culture, our constitution and our nation.
At the heart of this remains the great legacy of the
Reformation: that the monarch is Supreme Governor of the
Church of England, which is the Established Church of
As the 37th of the 39 Articles ("On the Civil Magistrates")
puts it, "the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this
Realm of England".
However, intrude into the Church's grief we now must:
for Lord Carey's successor on the throne of St Augustine,
Dr Rowan Williams, who in many regards seems even more
to inhabit the wilder shores of theology than Lord Carey,
is having none of this nonsense. He has picked up
on a threat issued by our probable next monarch, the Prince
of Wales, in 1994 about how (in that very "last century"
spirit) the Prince wanted to be "Defender of Faiths" when
and if he became King.
Some of us boring old pedants saw the stupidity of this
at the time. It is not in a King's job description
to defend "faiths", and cannot be unless the whole constitutional
arrangement that binds Church and State is unravelled.
More to the point, the notion of defending "faiths" imposes
the King on secular legal matters - for the practising
of faiths other than that of the Established Church is
defended in fact by various Acts of Parliament - in which
he has no place. Although one has never been entirely
sure that the Prince of Wales has fully grasped this point,
he is not a politician; and few things these days are
more political than the right to profess assorted faiths
that are not traditional to this country.
Dr Williams said of the Prince in 2003 that "unless something
really radical happens with the constitution, he is, like
it or not, Defender of the Faith and he has a relationship
with the Christian Church of a kind that he does not have
with other faith communities". That is self-evidently
the case. Of course, were our Queen to emulate her
late mother (and I fervently hope she does), there will
be no coronation for another 20 or so years.
Perhaps the needless vandalism of our constitution will
have been completed by then. Perhaps there will
be a different heir to the throne. Perhaps the moon will
be made of green cheese. Until such times as these things
Dr Williams's view must prevail, and his predecessor
would be best advised to keep his bizarre views to himself.
For the coronation service, religious though it be, is
about more than religion. When the time comes, only
a relatively small section of our people (and by no means
just Christians, let alone Anglicans) would savour the
religious significance of the event. For the rest
of us, the symbolism will transcend the religious. Some
will see the constitutional point, and realise how the
traditional form of words and practices provides us with
a monarch who will carry on business as usual. For
most of those watching their plasma screens, however,
the day will be about a sense of familiar national identity
embodied, however much or little they realise it, in the
person of the new sovereign.
Now, Lord Carey might argue that altering the service
to "include" Shias, Sunnis, Hindus, Zoroastrians and Jehovah's
Witnesses would not alter that symbolism: but he would
be wrong. It is not only that too many of our people
have seen newsreels of the last coronation 53 years ago,
and therefore have a fixed cultural idea of what it is
supposed to be. It is about
the new monarch, and the ceremony of coronation of which
he is at the heart, fitting in with what his people understand,
implicitly or explicitly, about themselves, and the nation
of which they are a part. It is Trevor Phillips's
point writ large: it is about a country being given its
cultural stability partly by history and tradition, and
about people buying into that when they choose to become
a part of the country.
That is what inclusiveness means: it is how countries
as diverse as France and America both do things.
It is about having a standard template of Frenchness or
American-ness, and welcoming people into that civilisation
and those humane values by asking them to participate
in them. We still, despite the
attempts of such vandals as Lord Carey, have a core culture
in this country. Christianity and the expectation
that Christianity will, for historic reasons, prevail
and be accepted as prevalent, are central to that culture.
And few events in the nation's life symbolise such
an understanding more than the traditional coronation
The next coronation will be a formal
renewal of our way of life and our values. It will
formally recognise not only the legitimacy of the monarch
in the eyes of God and the British constitution, but also
of the identification of the vast majority of his subjects
with the process of doing so. For that reason
above all others it must be clear, comprehensible and
in keeping with public expectations of such an event.