The nation is split down the middle about whether senior clergy should comment on political issues, according to a new survey. This follows the Archbishop of Canterbury’s guest-editorship of last week’s issue of the left-leaning New Statesman magazine, which provided Rowan Williams with a platform to critique the Coalition Government’s policies.
The topic is one of several covered in YouGov’s latest weekly poll for The Sunday Times, in which a representative sample of 2,728 adult Britons aged 18 and over was interviewed online on 9 and 10 June 2011. The relevant data appear on page 9 of the tables at:
45% of respondents considered it right for senior clerics to intervene in political debates and 44% disagreed. There was a sharp split on party political lines. Whereas 69% of current Conservative voters opposed clerical intervention, 64% of Labour supporters endorsed it, with Liberal Democrats divided on 47% for each position. Age also made some difference, approval of senior clerical involvement in politics rising from 36% among the 18-24s to 49% among the over-40s.
More specifically, interviewees were asked what they thought about the Archbishop’s criticism of the Government for introducing ‘radical, long-term policies for which no one voted’ in the 2010 general election and which were instilling ‘fear’ with the public. 47% agreed with his assessment while 35% disagreed and 18% expressed no opinion.
On this question the party political gulf was even wider. 75% of current Conservative supporters disagreed with the Archbishop and 81% of Labour voters sided with him. Liberal Democrats divided 39% for and 45% against, notwithstanding that the Liberal Democrats are in coalition with the Conservatives in Government, and that the policies under criticism are (supposedly) jointly owned by them. Among those who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 (three times as many who incline to the Liberal Democrats now) 56% agreed with Williams.
The other notable demographic was the above average support for the Archbishop’s views among residents of Northern England (56%) and Scotland (53%). This presumably manifests a perception that these parts of the nation are being particularly adversely affected by the Government policies which Williams was attacking.
For Conservatives, the Archbishop’s entry on the political stage (by no means his first – he recently voiced his discomfort about the killing by United States special forces of the unarmed Osama bin Laden) has doubtless brought back unwelcome memories of Robert Runcie’s clashes with Margaret Thatcher’s administration during the 1980s. For Labour supporters the appearance of Williams’s article in the New Statesman has provided them with an unexpected opportunity to land a punch on the Coalition Government.
It would naturally be interesting to see how political opinion would play out were the boot to be on the other foot, an Archbishop of Canterbury criticizing the policies of a Labour Government!