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There is more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the metropolitan philosophy

2012 May 17
by Paul Vallely

I have been listening to the Beryl and Betty show on Radio Humberside. The two old ladies – I think we may be permitted to use the adjective as they are aged 86 and 90 respectively – this week won a prestigious Sony Radio Academy Award. Not everyone was happy. “Frank Skinner was robbed,” wrote a complainant on one website carrying the news that the elderly double-act had beaten the Brummie comedian to the award for best entertainment programme.

So I decided to tune in, via the internet, to their hour-long show, which has been playing for six years, straight after the Saturday football results, to the people of Hull. You can see that fans of the spiky Mr Skinner might not be amused by the joyous shrieks and cackles of an nonagenarian, and friend, chipping in earthy comments to their jaunty co-presenter David Reeves on anything from fashion to sex to chicken dinners. But it was an interesting reminder of the gap between the tastes of the metropolitan elite and those of us who live out in the sticks.

It was not the only one in recent days. A poll to coincide with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee has been conducted by Comres. It showed that almost three-quarters of the population believe the Queen, and future monarchs, should retain the title of Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. A whopping 79 per cent agreed the Queen still had an important role to play in the faith-life of the nation.

A local paper in Plymouth, revealingly pointed out that more people in the West Country than in the capital backed the continued link between the Church and state. While nearly a third of Londoners (32 per cent) said that the Queen and future monarchs should have no faith role or title at all only 19 per cent in the South West agreed.

Bizarrely the National Secular Society’s website headlined the poll, in the teeth of its findings, “Monarch’s role as head of Church of England ‘unsustainable’.” Its argument was that since the Queen at her coronation had declared an allegiance to one religion that rendered everyone not of that religion as less than full citizens. Clearly this is not a logic the vast majority of the population accepts; as Farooq Murad, the general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, put it “we feel strong Christian values are good for us”.

A more fruitful line of attack for the NSS might have been to suggest that many of those who embrace the Church/state link might simply be doing so as a way of rejecting the values of others, subconsciously perhaps defining themselves in opposition to Muslims, atheists or out-and-out secularists.

The trouble is it is hard to tell. The other day I drove past a place which branded itself a “Traditional English Chippy”, replete with  union jack logo. Was it, I wondered, merely advertising the fact that its frying fat was untainted by the spices from Cantonese spring rolls or other multicultural fare? Or was it a quasi-political assertion of identity? Or even a bit of both?

It’s the same with the ComRes poll. There is even ambiguity about Her Majesty’s own position. For her first Jubilee engagement she chose a multi-faith reception at Lambeth Palace, where she defended the role of the “commonly under-appreciated” and “occasionally misunderstood” Church of England. Its duty, she said, was “not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of all other religions” but “to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country”.

Interesting the ComRes poll was done for BBC local radio which seeks to serve places where there is more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in the metropolitan philosophy. Exactly what Beryl and Betty make of it, we are yet to discover.

The Church Times

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