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The Bishop’s Gambit

March 12th, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized by


It’s not often I write to a bishop, let alone 26 bishops. But I was inspired by (not to mention encouraged by the easiness of) the Power2010 website’s call (and tool) to email all 26 Lords Spiritual and ask them to support a fully elected Upper House of Parliament.

Naturally, I didn’t just accept the words provided by Power2010. Firstly, I have a natural predisposition to disagree slightly with anybody else’s wording, especially on matters of politics. Secondly, I think that my email has a slightly higher chance of being read and receiving a tailored response if it is not the standard form letter. My letter reads as follows:

Dear Archbishop/Bishop,

I am writing to you as a member of the upper house of parliament to request your help in bringing about much-needed constitutional change in the UK.

As you will appreciate, recent events have highlighted the moribund and unrepresentative nature of our legislature. However, while this has been brought home to citizens of the United Kingdom in recent months, it is in fact a longstanding problem, and one that is increasingly alienating the public and leaving them feeling disempowered and cynical about the leadership of our country.

We need radical reform of the way our country is governed, including the introduction of a more representative voting system, making parliamentarians more accountable to the people, and giving individuals more power over their own lives. One key way that this could be brought about would be to make the upper house, which is currently entirely unelected, an fully elected chamber.

The current House of Lords is a strange admixture of ancient privilege, modern cronyism and bizarre corporatism. It is wrong that legislation should be made and revised by people who are in power as a result of lineage, patronage or the occupation of a particular office.

I am writing to request that you champion a radical reform of parliament, by committing to, and publically advocating the following:
1) That all people participate equally in public life through free debate, civic society and the democratic process;
2) That both houses of parliament be fully elected and publically accountable;
3) That members of both chambers commit to maximising the freedom of all individuals within society, ensuring that each person has the maximum freedom possible such that it does not directly detract from the freedom of others;
4) That the electoral system differ sufficiently between the two chambers that they produce sufficiently different and independent chambers;
5) That parliamentarians recognise that no mortal person is infallible and that parliamentarians should therefore proceed with humility and not assume that they know best.

I would be grateful if you would confirm your support for these principles and work with your fellow bishops, lords and parliamentarians to create a more democratic and accountable parliament.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Papworth
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate
Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner.

Yes, the correct term of address is “Dear Bishop/Archbishop”. I know!.

If you would like to send an email to all 26 bishops, you can visit the Power2010 website and do so.

Just don’t say anything that would reflect badly on Power2010, eh?


3 Responses to “The Bishop’s Gambit”

  1. Tom Papworth Says:

    [The text of this comment has been amended following the deletion of comments by another contributor at their request]

    It is true that there is more than one way of electing people. What bishops represent is corporatism. It’s a terrible system of politics and one that hasn’t had much practice outside the House of Lords since the fall of Mussolini (though Simon Jenkins occasionally proposed it).

    The bishops don’t actually represent geographical areas. They represent members of the church in that area – and I doubt very much that the average member of the church has much say in who his Lord Spiritual is.

    Bishops can provide a non-partisan representation, but only because they are not really answerable to anybody (how often has a bishop been removed from parliament because people did not agree with his views?). As for my “advocating [a system that] that runs the risk of homogenising the two houses”, I would refer you to point 4 of my letter.

  2. Jock Says:

    [Amended to delete reference to comments that were, in turn, deleted at the request of the author]

    I wrote to all the bishops as well during things like the section 28 debate and I think got a reply from every single one, which is a good hit rate really.

    Talking of Anglicans and politics, I think I managed to persuade my mum, who is in her final year of a Theology degree and will be ordained a Deacon this July and whose current essay topic is about the church and poverty to take a critical look at that stuff from the 80’s “Faith in the City” by the then Bishop of Liverpool, David Shepard and make a case that the church should be advocating a reduction in state intervention to help alleviate poverty…:)

  3. Niklas Smith Says:

    Excellent letter! And congratulations on your selection as a Lib Dem PPC.