The Empire Strikes Back

No, Darth Vader hasn’t attacked the Rebel outpost on the icy world of Hoth, nor has Han Solo been frozen in carbonite for the decorative purposes of Jabba the Hutt’s palace. Unfortunately, nothing that exciting has happened. More the age-old establishment, the Church has caused upset in the House of Lords this week as an amendment to the benefits reform led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds is voted in place of the original bill, which would see the amount of benefit available to eligible households across the UK capped at £26,000 per year, including those with children. The amendment led by the Right Reverend John Packer sees the exclusion of child benefit from the reform bill, meaning that the annual cap will not apply to this vital source of income for many families across Britain.

Enough of the technicalities, you’re reading this because you want my opinion surely? If not, then I’m not quite sure you’ve chosen to click the link from Facebook or Twitter; whenever you see the words ‘New blog post’ and the name ‘Clarke Roberts’ next to each other, you know you’re in store for a pointless rambling about things which the average university student couldn’t care less about. Not only that but you know I’m going to let you know exactly what I think – I am an over-opinionated little git after all.

Well, those of you who know me (or for those of you who don’t), for a long time I have been opposed to the Church’s involvement with politics; if you were to ask me (which is never a wise idea), I think it is the relationship between the two seemingly incompatible enterprises that leads to the majority of conflicts and disputes throughout the world. Take the Crusades for example. A conflict that was drawn out over a hundred years all because some religious folks on the West Side didn’t like that some religious folk on the East Side had claimed turf that the Christendom Massive thought was theirs – a simplified version of events you’ll agree, but you get the picture – the holocaust, ultimately caused by hatred of a religious and cultural group. Even events in the modern world; the September 11th attacks were undoubtedly fuelled by religion and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan (and Iraq, let’s not skirt around the issue), it could be argued, were the Crusades part 2 – the West once again showing the fellows in the East who’s boss. In fact, if I recall correctly, it was our good old friend George Bush Jnr that used the term ‘crusade’ in an address to the US during his term as president – cheers Georgie boy!

Not only in Western politics, but look at the situation in Sri Lanka – for over two decades the country has been engulfed in civil war that is caused by religious disputes between the Sinhalese Buddhist and the Tamil Hindus. Buddhist monks inciting violence and riots against a seemingly peaceful people whose only desire is to coexist with their fellow Sri Lankans in the south of the Island, all because these politicised monks want to spread their values and virtues amongst the entire nation; Buddhist monks who, have such an influence on the government there that its President ordered the expulsion of 350 Tamils out of the capital back in 2007.

So, if taking into account all that I’ve said, why have I suddenly had a change of heart?

The story as reported in the I today (24th Janurary 2012) demonstrates the good that can come out of religious involvement on the political scene. Had it not been for the Bishop of Leeds and Ripon then this amendment may not have even been considered. Liberals and Labour peers may not have spoken out against the coalition’s plans had they not been led by a (supposedly) impartial party. Yes Lord Ashdown (former leader of the Liberal Democrats) backed the proposal but did he incite its inception? No, I don’t think he did.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things that I think the Church of England needs to rethink its stance on if it is to be considered viable to have a say in the governing of the country – gay rights springs to mind immediately – but this demonstration is surely a good thing. It proves the impact of the Church in domestic politics; a body with apparent good morals and ethics and who are meant to be free from the corruption and power-seeking of the politicians aiding our troubled Lords and Ladies in making decisions that are right for the country, is surely the way forward.

Perhaps we should all hold our horses when it comes to ‘dissing’ the Church and their political ideals. Families who rely on child benefit have a lot to thank the Church for this week, even if the amendment is overturned when it goes back to the Commons. I don’t even want to get started on Nick Clegg – now that I’ve mentioned his name I’d might as well start – can you believe the ‘liberal’ ‘leader’ was opposed to this amendment and was urging his back-benchers not to rebel against the original proposal laid out but Iain Duncan Smith? Well yes actually, so could I. Again showing that he, in fact, is just a Tory who wears a yellow tie.

Cameron isn’t having a very good week of it really. What with the News of the World scandal hitting all new lows, NHS reforms being questioned, the Scottish referendum and now this, one wonders if he’ll be joining Mr Obama next year on the pile of unwanted, failed and tossed-to-one-side has-been political leaders. As much as I hate to say it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ed Miliband with the keys to Number 10 when the next election swoops by.

Shame it couldn’t be Darth Sidious though, he was efficient at getting the job done and dealing with those ‘rebel scum’ who opposed him. Ah well, let’s just hope Luke Skywalker is never born so that we might yet live to see that day.