The photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral standing proud amid the chaos of the London Blitz was one of the most striking and iconic images of the Second World War, at once tangible evidence of a seeming miracle and a beacon of Britain’s endurance in adversity and of hope for eventual victory against the Axis Powers.
But the Cathedral has certainly been laid low during recent days by divisions among the Dean and Chapter over the Occupy London anti-capitalist campsite surrounding it, and by a flurry of criticism (some from within the Church of England) over the decision to shut the Cathedral completely for a week (on health and safety grounds) – something even the Luftwaffe failed to manage.
Now, thanks to a YouGov poll for today’s issue of The Sunday Times, we have the first real test of public opinion on the subject. A representative sample of 1,676 Britons aged 18 and over was interviewed online on 27 and 28 October 2011, and the results (with breaks by demographics) have been published in full at:
Respondents were somewhat split in their attitudes to the aims of the protesters, with 39% in support, 26% opposed, and 35% undecided. Not unexpectedly, the most significant variation was by current voting intention, 54% of Labourites backing the goals of the protesters, against 18% of Conservatives (with Liberal Democrats on 49%).
However, a simple majority (53%) of the sample was clear that the Cathedral authorities had been wrong to shut the building, rising to 60% among men and 64% of the over-60s. 31% backed the decision of the Chapter to close the Cathedral, including 40% of Conservatives. 16% said that they did not know what to think.
Somewhat fewer (47%) wanted the Cathedral and the Corporation of London to initiate legal proceedings to remove the protesters from outside the Cathedral. Conservatives (73%) were most in favour of this course of action, twice the proportion in the other two main political parties. 39% were against legal steps, with 13% undecided.
The decision of Dr Giles Fraser, the left-leaning Canon Chancellor of the Cathedral, to resign from his position last Thursday in opposition to the threat of legal action against the protesters, was welcomed by 31% of respondents (including 43% of the over-60s). This group perhaps contained some who applauded Fraser’s principled stand but doubtless also those who were glad to see the back of a ‘turbulent priest’. 42% considered that he had been wrong to resign, and 27% expressed no opinion.
The YouGov poll additionally covered the changes to the laws of royal succession agreed at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia. Unfortunately, the question posed about Roman Catholics did not reflect the specific amendment agreed, which was limited to those in the line of succession being able to marry a Catholic. No alteration is being mooted to the bar on a reigning monarch being a Catholic himself or herself, which is deemed incompatible with the constitutional role of the monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Nevertheless, the question is not without value as a litmus-test of residual anti-Catholicism. Respondents were asked whether they thought the law should be changed to permit a Catholic to succeed to the throne. 48% agreed with the suggestion, 33% disagreed, and 19% had no view.
Agreement was greatest among Liberal Democrat voters (64%), whose official party policy is to separate Church and State, and among Scots (65%). Opponents of the proposition were most numerous among Conservative voters (45%) and the over-60s (42%).
The evolution of public opinion on this topic, and on the establishment of the Church of England more generally, can be traced in an academic journal article published last week: Clive Field, ‘“A Quaint and Dangerous Anachronism”? Who Supports the (Dis)Establishment of the Church of England?’, Implicit Religion, Vol. 14, No. 3, September 2011, pp. 319-41.