++BREAKING: Antidisestablishmentarian Times and Telegraph reveal new danger posed by 150 year-old Liberal pledge for separation of Church and State

by Stephen Tall on April 25, 2014

times tele disestablishmentIs there no actual news happening today? Sounds a stupid question. I mean, the US has accused Russia of deliberately destabilising Ukraine, affordability tests for new mortgages are going to be toughened, and the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland has vetoed big bonuses for staff. All important, interesting stories.

Then I looked at today’s Times and Telegraph, both of which lead on whether the Church of England should remain the established state church.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a diverting issue. A little over five years ago, in the news-lull leading up to Christmas, I asked as a poll question of readers, ‘Do you think the time has now come for the Church of England to be disestablished?’ (You said yes.)

But as front page news? Today? What next for the Times and Telegraph? Will they hold the front page for other historic cause célèbres? Major splashes on Irish home rule, the People versus the Peers, and Free Trade v Imperial Preference?

The papers’ justification for this coverage is that the somewhat arcane question of Church disestablishment is apparently at the heart of a new Coalition ‘split’. Yes, four years on journos still love a story that allows them to point out that the two different political parties which comprise the Coalition disagree with each other on some issues.

It turns out – and, be warned, the faint-hearted should look away now – that the leader of the Conservatives, a patrician, home counties, establishment type, rather likes the Church of England staying as it is. “We’re a Christian country, we have an established church,” says David Cameron.

By contrast, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, a party steeped in radical, non-conformist, anti-establishment secularism, believes in the separation of Church and State. “It would be better for the Church and better for people of faith, and better for Anglicans, if the Church and the state were to stand on their own two separate feet,” says Nick Clegg.

This is the kind of shocking news you learn only from reading The Times and Daily Telegraph.

Antidisestablishmentarians are up in arms. The Telegraph’s deputy editor Ben Brogan demands to know in his morning email of Mr Clegg’s disestablishmentarianism: “will it be a Lib Dem manifesto promise next year, and will it be one of his red lines in negotiations for a Coalition Mk II is the need arises? Presumably, the answer would be no (apologies if it turns out it has been party policy for ages).”

Since you ask, Ben, I think it’s fair to say disestablishment of the Church may well be regarded as a piece of unfinished Liberal business… on the to-do list for the last 150 years or so. Try Wikipedia or Google if it’s easier.

Or, indeed, try your own paper, which warned in September 2000 of the Lib Dems ‘lurching to the left’. The reason? The party conference had voted for the separation of Church and state. Just as bad, we “also backed a change in the law to give legal recognition to homosexual relationships”. Thank goodness the Lib Dems never stood a chance of getting into government and doing such a dreadful thing, eh?

But don’t worry too much, antidisestablishmentarians. When it comes to the separation of Church and state Nick Clegg himself accepted it’s not going to happen any time soon. Which is almost enough to make you wonder why two national newspapers thought it was a scoop.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.