On the 29th August, Blogger Archbishop Cranmer made a strong case for the elevation of Anne Widdicombe to the House of Lords. He is always worth reading and this contribution to the intellectual life of the nation was no exception.
His Grace took up a common theme amongst responders to the Prime Minister’s nominations to the Upper House; Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman had written that Mr Cameron’s list “lacks vision, imagination, and a feeling for the wider Conservative family” and many had noted the patent injustice of those distant cousins, Ukip, being completely ignored, notwithstanding a significant showing of electoral support in two successive elections, European and General.
So much for the general point, yet in our more modern and inclusive world. Lords are supposed to embody personal merits beyond faithful service to the appointing PM; in a truly modernised and inclusive Conservative Party, one might expect to see a generosity of spirit towards those who speak with insight and integrity, free from a sense of personal obligation or advancement.
In Shakespeare’s plays there is frequently a dissonnent figure “the fool” who speaks truth to power and is afforded that liberty by the ruler who knows and understands that there are enough sycophantic fools amongst his close associates, and they are not usually the ones willing and able to give the most honest and informed advice. Miss Widdicombe could certainly be relied upon for that task.
So it was, that Archbishop Cranmer advanced the case for a peerage on behalf of another. It is a case unanswerable in logic; a Premier who could elevate an inarticulate oaf like John Prescott to the Upper Chamber ( which he does not value or respect) must surely be pressed to explain why Miss Widdicome is thought so much less worthy.
As Cranmer summarises ” She might ruffle a few feathers, put spanners in the works, get under one’s skin, and be a general thorn in the side, but pearls need grit and mills need grist. it is a legislators job to analyse, probe and persuade. In the Upper House we need peers with the ability to spot deficiency, and without fear of favour, to warn of sin or stain.”
Quite, and in the Prime minister’s “New Conservatives” ( to coin a Blairite phrase) where exactly are we to find such independence of thought amongst the new tranche of peers, so many of whom are patently beholden to the PM for the new lucrative privileges bestowed upon them? The hereditary peers had their faults, but when one owned half of Clackmannanshire and regarded such as Mr Cameron as an upstart, the electorate might safely discount sycophancy as a motivating factor,
If folks are warming to the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage, is it not precisely because they see in them, something of a similar independence of spirit, something counter cultural to the Westminster Bubble and even something of Anne Widdicombe?
Which brings Brother Ivo to his main point.
One strand of thought which is overlooked in the new appointments is that which used to predominate in the Upper House. It is that which was capable of defending the merits of the Established Order, espousing traditional values and beliefs, and through deep historical appreciation, was able to prick the pretentiousness of the modern age with sharp analysis rooted in faith, knowledge, and an understanding of the British Constitutional Settlement.
Miss Widdicombe could have done this; so could Roger Scruton. Yet who is better qualified to undertake such a task than Brother Ivo’s colleague, inspiration and mentor “Archbishop Cranmer” himself?
Anyone who has read the Cranmer blog over the last ten years cannot have been struck by the consistent quality, erudition and breadth of the thought and writing that it offers day by day, week by week, year by year.
Modern Lords and Ladies are supposed to have a history of serving the public good, yet those charged with the responsibility of filling the chamber seem to have a blind spot in certain regards; one might even say there is “something of the night” about the prejudice against such as His Grace and Miss Widdicome.
Whilst Miss Widdicombe’s latter day career may seem somewhat populist, it should not mask her many other qualities.
“Archbishop Cranmer” is completely different , lower key, more exploratory of detail and frequently anchored in theology perhaps, Cranmer has pursued a rather quieter, more cerebral path, but it is no less impressive.
At this point we come to one of Brother Ivo’s much loved paradoxes. If we are in the modern world, why is there such a disinclination in our rulers to engage with the social media, to take it seriously and to reward those who are the finest exponents of the evolving medium. The “traditional” Archbishop Cranmer blog was a pioneer of modern social media intellectualism.
The mark of an “interesting” blog is that one regularly finds a new perspective, upon a wide choice of subjects. Cranmer delivers that in spades. Brother Ivo attempts it from time to time. Those who have never tried to deliver such public topical commentary from an informed perspective will never appreciate the sheer effort willpower and invention necessary to sustain such a website. It is draining yet Archbishop Cranmer screws himself to the sticking point on a sustained basis which few other equal, fewer still on a non professional basis.
At his own expense and no personal reward, “Cranmer” has enriched the intellectual life of the nation. His erudition has been recognised by a variety of serious thinkers, those who agree with him and those who do not.
When Giles Fraser, Dan Hannan the National Secular Societyand Melanie Philips agree uponon the consistent quality of His Grace’s output, it is a pretty strong indicator that here is a voice that would enrich the House of Lords across a wide range of political ethical and cultural topics. He is a National Treasure and ought to both better known and more widely heard. THe Upper House is the appropriate stage for such a contribution to be received.
Brother Ivo believes that most who read his inferior musings will do so from his own past association with the Cranmer blog. Brother Ivo may flag up the grievous sin of omission from which His Grace suffers; unfamiliar readers will not need to long research to acknowledge the merits whereof Brother Ivo writes,
So what is to be done?
Brother Ivo invites as many as are here present to lift up their voices unto the powers that be, to humbly petition to restore His Grace to a position of prominence in our national life, so that others may benefit from that which we take too easily for granted
In short. please circulate this piece and idea to as wide an audience as you can. Whether by twitter, Facebook or simply by email or in conversation, let us place the issue into the public square, so that His Grace may be elevated to the House of Lords with all due speed, for the benefit of our national life and in recognition of his distinctive contribution to our intellectual life. If you know prominent people in politics, public or cultural life please bring it to their attention and solicit their support.