Nick Baines is mistaken: Cameron’s policy is coherent, but morally foul

This morning, I was invited onto BBC Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme to discuss my response as a Christian pacifist to the situation in northern Iraq. Our discussion followed headlines reporting that English church leaders have criticised the UK government’s response to Islamic extremism.

The story appears in more detail on the front page of today’s Observer, which declares that the Church of England has launched a “bitter attack” on the UK government’s Middle East policy. The “attack” consists of a letter to David Cameron from the Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

I don’t object to bishops criticising the government; I wish they would do it more often. However, this “attack” – which is really more of a polite criticism – is far too soft on the government, making no mention of the militarism and commercial exploitation at the hear of UK foreign policy.

Baines’ letter suggests that UK foreign policy is not “coherent”. In contrast, I believe it is fairly consistent – and morally wrong.

On one issue, I applaud Nick Baines’ intervention. The letter raises vital questions about asylum, saying:

“As yet, there appears to have been no response to pleas for asylum provision to be made for those Christians (and other minorities) needing sanctuary from Iraq in the UK. I recognise that we do not wish to encourage Christians or other displaced and suffering people to leave their homeland – the consequences for those cultures and nations would be extremely detrimental at every level – but for some of them this will be the only recourse.”

The bishop is quite right to push the government on the question of asylum. There are several right-wing columnists who want to bomb Iraq, supposedly out of concern for the plight of Yazidis and Christians. I have no doubt that many of them would show far less concern about these people’s plight if they were to turn up claiming asylum in the UK.

If Baines had confined his letter to the asylum issue, it would be stronger and the press reports would be focusing on it. But his letter includes comments on the Middle East generally, as well as UK government policy on “Islamic extremism”. Predictably, much of the media have picked up on these questions rather than on asylum. Baines’ comments on these issues may well do more harm than good.

Baines writes:

“We do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism as it is developing across the globe. Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groups represent particular manifestations of a global phenomenon.”

In this passage, “we” appears to mean the UK (in effect, the UK government). The examples that Baines gives are both manifestations of Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, talk of this “developing across the globe” plays down the many differences between types of extremism and the variety of contexts that have given rise to them. It also implies that Islamic extremists are somehow more of a problem than other violent and terrorist groups – from the Israeli government carrying out massacres in Gaza to Buddhist extremists burning mosques and churches in Sri Lanka.

The bishop unfortunately writes about Christians in an equally unhelpful way:

“The focus by both politicians and media on the plight of the Yezidis has been notable and admirable. However, there has been increasing silence about the plight of tens of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, driven from cities and homelands, and who face a bleak future. Despite appalling persecution, they seem to have fallen from consciousness, and I wonder why. Does your Government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others?”

This, frankly, sounds petty. Baines is right to speak up for the plight of persecuted people and we all naturally tend to be more worried about the suffering of people with whom we can identify. But these comments add to the impression that Christians should be more worried about the persecution of other Christians than about the persecution of Yazidis, Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Jews, atheists or anyone else. Let’s challenge persecution because it is wrong and because we are called to love all our neighbours as ourselves. Let’s not sound as if we think the rights of Christians matter more than the rights of others.

Early on in his letter, Baines says that “it is not clear what our broader global strategy is – particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect”.

Again, the use of “our” identifies Baines – and by extension the rest of the Church and the British population – with Cameron’s government. Cameron’s foreign policy is, if not clear, then at least more coherent than the bishop suggests. It may seem inconsistent for politicians to wring their hands about Islamic extremists in Nigeria while preparing to bomb Islamic extremists in Iraq. It may appear absurd for Philip Hammond to condemn Russia for arming separatists in Ukraine while happily selling weapons to Israel, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

But while ministers’ words are inconsistent, their actions are not. The government’s foreign policy is based on the commercial and strategic interests of those who hold power in the UK and the class that they represent. This is a government thoroughly committed to promoting the concerns of the super-rich. This has after all the basic purpose of the Tory Party throughout its existence. While I’m sure that some ministers believe that they are acting out of humanitarian concern, their domestic policy has involved rapid redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. We cannot expect their foreign policy to be any more ethical.

The problem is not that UK government policy is incoherent. The problem is that it is wrong. It makes sense within the context of the values by which Cameron and his cronies abide. These are the same repugnant values of militarism and colonialism that led Cameron to back Blair in invading Iraq, triggering a downward spiral to sectarian civil war.

In his letter, Nick Baines follows the common practice of using the words “we” and “our” when he really means the UK government and its armed forces. This is unhelpful, as it implies that nationality is the primary aspect of our identity and that we are basically on the same side as those who hold power.

As Christians, our loyalty is to the Kingdom of God. I owe no more loyalty to David Cameron’s government than I do to ISIS.

Church welcomes arms dealers – but tries to ban pacifists from singing hymns

Church House vigil 140709The most bizarre moment of today’s vigil outside an arms conference at Church House was when Westminster Abbey’s staff told us that we were not allowed to sing hymns on their land.

A group of around twenty people, mostly Christians, were holding a vigil of prayer and protest outside Church House, whose conference centre is hosting an “Air Power” conference sponsored by arms companies such as BAE and Lockheed Martin. The area outside one entrance to Church House is on Westminster Abbey land.

Our vigil had largely been silent until we started to sing “We are marching in the light of God”. A member of Westminster Abbey staff came over to us and said we should not sing. She insisted that the Abbey had been “very generous” in allowing us on to its “private property” and that we would not be allowed to continue there if we sang.

I said it was odd that an arms dealers’ conference is welcome but that Christians singing hymns were not. The Abbey representative told me that the Abbey had nothing to do with the arms conference, which is hosted at Church House.

This is a fair point as far as it goes, even though the Abbey own the steps up which the arms dealers walked to get to Church House. But I asked why we could Church House vigil 140709 - 2not sing hymns in the grounds of a church built on Jesus Christ.

The Abbey staff member (I’m sorry; I don’t know her name) said she worked for the Dean and Chapter. I said that they were part of a church built on the teachings of Jesus. She said, “I don’t know what the church is built on” and insisted that she was accountable to the Dean and Chapter.

I asked if this was an admittance that Westminster Abbey is basically a secular institution rather than a church of Christ. She said, “It’s a royal peculiar”. This is a legal term regarding the Abbey’s official status and its relationship to the monarchy.

I replied that I had no interest in “royal peculiars” as the only royalty I recognise is Jesus Christ. I explained that Jesus is my king and queen and that Elizabeth Windsor is not.

She seemed offended at this point and said, “Queen Elizabeth the Second is my queen.” I replied, “She’s not mine” but she soon returned to talking about the Abbey being a “royal peculiar.”

Even if you accept monarchy, private property and so on, this does not explain why the Abbey should object to people singing hymns on its grounds. She never explained this, only saying the Abbey were “very generous” by allowing us there. Perhaps I should have put this point more, rather than got into an confused exchange about the monarchy.

I suggested that her words were an admission that the Abbey was more concerned with its loyalty to an earthly monarch than to Jesus. She didn’t answer, but walked off angrily to consult with uniformed staff as we continued to sing.

We sang hymns, prayed and read the Bible aloud for more than half an hour after that without being disturbed. The arms dealers enjoying drinks on the balcony above us could clearly hear us.

Of course, this comes less than a fortnight after Westminster Abbey’s staff called in the police for a violent eviction of a group of disabled protesters. Their behaviour on that occasion made St Paul’s Cathedral’s treatment of the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp seem mild by comparison.

What’s this got to do with the arms trade? It’s about loyalty and authority. In what culture do Christian organisations operate? I frequently fail to live in loyalty to Christ. I do not love my neighbour as myself, I behave selfishly and am complicit in the sins of our society and economic system. The task of a church is to bring together people as they struggle to live in loyalty to the Kingdom of God, and to witness to Jesus Christ in the world.

Loyalty to the Kingdom of God means a rejection of the powers of this world. Sadly, Westminster Abbey and Church House seem to be in thrall to the idols of Mammon, monarchy and militarism.

 

To sign an email about arms conferences at Church House to the Archbishop of Canterbury, please visit http://act.caat.org.uk/lobby/churchhouse.

Resist the arms conference at Church House

The Church House Conference Centre, located in the Church of England’s administrative headquarters near Westminster Abbey, is again to host a conference sponsored by arms dealers.

The “Air Power” conference, running today and tomorrow (9-10 July), is sponsored by some of the world’s most vicious arms companies, including BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and Finmeccanica.

All these companies are complicit in human rights abuses around the world, through selling arms to tyrannical regimes that have turned weapons against their own people.

The Church of England’s own investments policy rules out buying shares in any of them (and any other company that makes more than ten percent of its profit from arms). But the Church of England is now profiting from these companies by renting its facilities to them. Many Anglicans, other Christians and other people of goodwill are naturally angry about this.

When Church House hosted a similar conference – on “Land Warfare” – last month, a senior Church of England spokesperson told the Church Times that it was not an “arms conference” because the booking had been made by a thinktank.

It’s true that both conferences are run by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a militarist thinktank. But the fact that RUSI is a thinktank does not mean it is independent or unbiased. More importantly, the authorities at Church House must know very well that this conference is sponsored by arms firms.

To claim that it is not an arms conference is either staggeringly naïve or wilfully misleading.

To resist this appalling event, you can:

Planning land warfare – in the Church of England’s HQ

Where will a group of generals and arms dealers gather tomorrow to discuss the future of land warfare? A military camp? The Ministry of Defence? An underground bunker? No, it’s the headquarters of the Church of England.

Church House Conference Centre is part of Church House, the building in Westminster that houses the administrative headquarters of the Church Commissioners, the Archbishops’ Council and other parts of the Church of England. The Conference Centre is a wholly owned subsidiary company of the Church House Corporation, whose president is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This is sad news for many Anglicans, other Christians and other people of goodwill. The Christian Church is founded on Jesus, the Prince of Peace, whose life was a model of active nonviolent resistance to injustice. That’s why the Fellowship of Reconciliation have organised a silent vigil outside tomorrow’s conference.

The Land Warfare Conference is organised by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a military thinktank. It is sponsored by SAAB, an arms company. The speakers include top generals from the UK, US and elsewhere as well as NATO.

Topics for discussion include “Generating fighting power” and “Preparing for future operating environments”. Another topic is “honouring the equipment programme beyond sustainment to development of future capabilities”, which sounds incomprehensible, though I suspect it may be about pushing for high military spending.

Church House came under considerable criticism for hosting an arms dealers’ conference booked by RUSI in November 2012. People gathered to pray outside the event and hundreds more emailed to complain about it. I was invited to meet with a senior member of Church House staff, who defended the decision to host the event.

Despite all those discussions, they are doing it again. And this time it’s worse – because it’s happening twice. In addition to tomorrow’s event, there will be an Air Power Conference on 9th-10th July. That one will be sponsored by some of the world’s largest and most vicious arms dealers, including BAE Systems, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Finmeccanica, all of whom sell weapons to dictatorships as a matter of course. Speakers include not only top air force officers but the head of exports at the Ministry of Defence.

Christians have a variety of views on warfare. I can respect Christians who believe that violence is sometimes justified, even though I disagree with them. But these conferences are not about dialogue or discussion on ethical issues. They are about planning international warfare, which by its nature involves the deaths of countless innocent people. Furthermore, arms companies would hardly be sponsoring these events if they did not think it was good for business. These are conferences that will help the arms trade.

The Church of England rightly rules out investments in companies that make more than ten percent of their money from arms. Several of its bishops – along with many of its clergy and other members – have spoken out strongly against certain forms of warfare, particularly nuclear weapons. Many have condemned the arms trade. Justin Welby and other bishops have rightly attacked many of the coalition government’s cuts to public services and social security, although they have not generally pointed out that cuts to military spending have been minor by comparison (the UK has the sixth highest military spending in the world).

No Christian church should be running a conference centre in an ethically neutral way that merely takes bookings from whoever comes along. To allow these bookings confers an appearance of moral legitimacy on them that they do not deserve. While churches understandably run businesses to fund their work, it is this work – the promotion of the Kingdom of God – that should be our focus. I lose that focus as often as any other Christian; we need constantly to be brought back to it.

Let’s remember Jesus’ teaching that “a bad tree cannot bear good fruit”. Or, as Gandhi put it, “the means are to the end as the seed is to the tree”. We cannot promote the Gospel with profits from arms companies. Let’s seek to be loyal to the Kingdom of God, not the idols of money and militarism.

I hope to see you at the silent vigil tomorrow, running from 8.00am until about 9.00am (if you can’t get there for 8.00, you’re still very welcome). Please feel free to bring banners and placards with messages about peace, faith, nonviolence and the arms trade (without any personally abusive messages of course – let’s love our enemies).

The vigil’s been organised by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (England). The vigil is listed on Facebook. Please invite your friends. If you can’t make it to Westminster in person, please keep the conference and the issue in your prayers and thoughts.

And let’s urge Church House to tell the militarists and death-dealers that they will need to find a new venue for the future.

Challenging the arms trade on the edge of Farnborough

This evening, I’ll be speaking about the arms trade on the edge of Farnborough – the home town of the multinational arms company BAE Systems.

The talk will be at 8.00pm in the Chapel in Ash Vale, which is on the edge of Farnborough (just over the country border in Surrey). Many thanks to St Mary’s Church, Ash Vale for organising the event.

Lots of the local people work in the arms industry. This is not surprising; many people have little choice but to take what jobs are available.

I’ll be engaging in discussion with people who disagree with me. I’ll also be challenging the arms industry’s claims about providing jobs. For years, BAE and others have talked about the jobs they offer, only to move thousands of jobs out of Britain when it suits them to do so. Rather than rely on the whims of arms dealers, we need an economy that provides meaningful, long-lasting and socially useful jobs so that the skills of those currently working for BAE can be put to better use.

The talk is also an opportunity to challenge the Farnborough Air Show. This biennial event combines a trade fair (for both the arms industry and the civil aviation industry) with a much more fluffy public air show. This year it will take place from 14th-20th July.

The event this evening is open to the public. More details can be found here. I’m looking forward to it.

Welby, homophobia and the lives that are at risk

Justin Welby has declared that acceptance of same-sex marriage could lead to Christians being killed in South Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan and elsewhere.

In his comments, Welby made some valid points. But the conclusions he drew from them seem to me to be severely mistaken.

The archbishop told LBC Radio that he had “stood by gravesides in Africa of a group of Christians who had been attacked because of something that had happened in America”. In the incident in question, in Nigeria, the murderers had allegedly said “If we leave a Christian community here, we will all be made to become homosexual and so we will kill all the Christians.”

Welby is right to say that “We have to be aware of… the impact of that on Christians far from here.” As he pointed out, “Everything we say here goes round the world.”

It would be naïve and uncaring not to think of the possibility that same-sex marriage in British churches could be used to incite anti-Christian hatred elsewhere in the world. Welby rightly reminds us that we need to take that into account.

However, when something is used to incite hatred, this does not mean it is necessarily the underlying cause of the hatred. I am sure Welby would acknowledge that anti-Christian prejudice in Nigeria, Pakistan and elsewhere is due to complex social, historical, economic and political causes. The same can be said of homophobic prejudice.

I dare say that some Nigerians assume that Christians in South Sudan all share the views of Christians in the US. They show as much prejudice as those British people who assume that all British Muslims are comparable to the Taliban. I am sure the majority of people in Nigeria, like the majority of people in Britain, have the sense to realise that this is not the case.

Much of the British reporting of African homophobia has racial undertones. An assumption that all Africans are homophobic (clearly not true) is accompanied by an implication that Africans will naturally behave in a prejudiced, irrational and ill-informed way.

I am not suggesting that Welby shares this attitude. Nor, to be fair, does every British media report. But it is nonetheless a common attitude. At its worse, it combines appeasement of homophobia with underlying racism.

Bigots who attack Christians in South Sudan, Nigeria or Pakistan have no more excuse than the bigots of the English Defence League attacking Muslims in Britain.

This does not mean that we should be callous about things that might provoke them into turning their hatred into violence. We should not be naïve or thoughtless about the effects on Christians in these countries of decisions taken in Europe or North America.

Nor should we allow this to become a convenient excuse for British Christians who oppose same-sex relationships in any case. If Christians in Pakistan were attacked by Islamic fundamentalists shouting that the doctrine of the trinity is blasphemous, I doubt we would see any British church leaders arguing that we should abandon belief in the trinity.

While talking about the implications of our decisions for Christians in Africa, there was one aspect of the issue that Welby sadly did not mention. He did not point out the consequences for gay and bisexual Africans. Many African cultures were accepting of homosexuality prior to the arrival of western armies and missionaries. As Davis Mac-Iyalla, a gay Nigerian Anglican, points out, it was not homosexuality but homophobia that the west brought to Africa.

The many LGBTI Christians in Africa need our support and solidarity. They don’t need the double curse of homophobia justified by racial, colonial assumptions.

Why is a Christian school promoting an arms company?

The arms company BAE Systems, along with the Royal Air Force, has run a “science roadshow” for pupils at a Christian secondary school in central London. The school is a few minutes’ walk from where I live.

The school, St Marylebone Church of England School, aims to “nurture respect for religious, moral and spiritual values” and to help pupils to “understand the interdependence of individuals, groups and nations”.

BAE Systems is a multinational arms firm, selling weapons to oppressive and aggressive regimes around the globe. 

I heard about the event, which happened on 5th March, when I was contacted by the local paper, the West End Extra. It has now run a story about my criticism and the headteacher’s response. I have also written to the headteacher, Kat Pugh, explaining my concerns and apologising for not having written before my criticisms appeared in print. 

I emphasised to her that I am not criticising the school as a whole. I am pleased to hear that the school has maked Fairtrade Fortnight and run an e-safety event. 

I did not write as a a parent or a schoolteacher (although I teach in adult education). My comments are simply those of a local resident with a good knowledge of the arms industry in general and BAE in particular. There are two reasons why I strongly object to BAE’s role in this event. 

Firstly, there is the issue of BAE’s influence on young people and its portrayal of science.

In her comments to the West End Extra, Kat Pugh emphasised that the event is not about recruitment for BAE or the RAF. I appreciate that it is not a direct recruitment event.

Nonetheless, I doubt that either BAE or the RAF engage in this sort of activity purely as a matter of charity. BAE have an interest in more people choosing careers in science, technology and engineering, as they employ people to do this sort of work. This employment is helped by the UK government, which effectively subsidises the arms industry to the tune of £700 million per year (according to the academic researchers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). 

The headteacher suggests that the name of the company that runs the event is irrelevant because the children will not remember it. This seems rather disingenuous. The way the event is run will inevitably affect the way that science is portrayed, however subtly. 

Secondly, any invitation to BAE helps to confer an image of social and moral legitimacy on the company and its activities. 

This is why the Church of England no longer invests in BAE (or any company making more than ten percent of its turnover from arms sales). It is why nearly all charities now refuse to invest in BAE and and why institutions such as the National Gallery have recently ended sponsorship deals with arms firms. 

In Kat Pugh’s comments to the West End Extra, she refers to the “defence industry”. BAE’s work is not about defence. Its customers include regimes that use weapons in the most aggressive manner against innocent civilians. Saudi Arabia is one of BAE’s “home markets”. I am sure the headteacher does not need me to tell her about the reality of the Saudi regime, its suppression of dissent or its use of weapons against peaceful critics of its royal family.

In 2011, peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain were attacked by their own government with the help of armoured vehicles made by BAE Systems.

If BAE’s representatives were in the school to debate the ethics of the arms industry with their critics, I would be glad that such a discussion was taking place. However, by allowing BAE to run a roadshow at which the company’s values are not questioned or debated, the school implies that it endorses, or at least tolerates, the activities of BAE and their impact on the world.

Having written to the school’s headteacher, I will also be writing to the Church of England to ask about any national policies concerning their schools’ relationships with arms companies.

Ironically, the BAE event at St Marylebone School took place on Ash Wednesday, 5th March. Ash Wednesday is a day associated with repentance, accepting God’s forgiveness and a change of hearts and minds. We all need to repent of our country’s role in the evil of the international arms trade. 

Why I’m not cheering the Pilling Report

Two and a half years ago, I was undertaking a pilgrimage of repentance for my former homophobia when I received a phone call from Ruth Gledhill of the Times. The Church of England’s House of Bishops had just announced a two-year consultation process on homosexuality. Ruth wanted to know my view on it.

Now the consultation process has ended, resulting in the Pilling Report. It is full of language that says the church should be more welcoming alongside policies that say the opposite. I’m sorry to see some LGBT Christians welcoming it and have written a fuller response on the website of Queers for Jesus. Please click here to read it.

I love Britain. The Daily Mail hates it.

What is Britain? This question doesn’t seem to have been asked much in the many arguments around the Daily Mail’s vicious attack on Ed Miliband’s father. Ralph Miliband, the Mail maintains, “hated Britain”.

Is “Britain” simply a geographical area? Or does the Mail really mean the United Kingdom, which is a political entity? Or the British people? We talk so much about countries that we can easily forget that nationality is an abstract and ill-defined concept.

The Daily Mail‘s deputy editor Jon Steafel now seems to have come up with a definition of Britain that few British people would recognise.

Defending his paper’s claims, he attacked Ralph Miliband’s “views on British institutions, from our schools to our royal family to our military, to our universities to the church [of England]”.

Steafel’s implication is that to oppose powerful institutions in Britain is to hate Britain. This is nonsense. There is more to Britain than its rulers. It is possible to love a country’s people, to love it as a place and to oppose its political and economic systems. Indeed, love for a country’s people should surely lead to a desire to be rid of unjust institutions that harm them.

I’m not too keen on the United Kingdom as a political entity, but I love the places and people within it. You may be surprised to hear that I also love many aspects of its politics.

I love British traditions of free speech, religious liberty and fair trials (although they’re abused). We have these things because people went out and campaigned for them, not because our rulers kindly handed them down.

I love the radical traditions of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Radical egalitarian forms of Christianity became popular in these islands in the seventeenth century, just after England had abolished its monarchy (over a hundred years before France did so; sadly, it didn’t last).

I love the stunning scenery in Snowdonia and the Antrim coast. I love the mix of cultures, languages and religions on the streets of London. I love the friendliness of Cardiff and the feeling of homecoming as the bus goes over Magdalen Bridge in Oxford. I love the rural Midlands roads that I walked down as a child, greasy spoon cafes in Birmingham, the sight of the castle in Edinburgh and the passion of people whose poverty is no barrier to resisting injustice. I love the British people.

The Daily Mail stirs up hatred of the British working class, British Muslims, British LGBT people, British people who were born outside the UK and British people who claim benefits. It is the Daily Mail that hates Britain.

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The above article appeared as my latest column for the website of the Ekklesia thinktank. Please see http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/news/columns/hill

IDS and the bishops: Some overlooked facts

I have often been critical of the Church of England’s leadership for being slow to speak out on issues of economic justice. I’m therefore delighted that 43 CofE bishops have criticised the coalition for cutting benefits (or technically, for raising them by one percent, which is below the rate of inflation and therefore a cut in all but name).

It’s good news that Justin Welby has backed their stance, in one of his first high-profile acts as Archbishop of Canterbury. I am hoping that this is a sign of how he means to go on.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has responded to the bishops with a statement that (while not containing any direct lies) gives a very misleading impression of the welfare budget.

He said:

“This is about fairness. People who are paying taxes, working very hard, have hardly seen any increases in their salary and yet, under the last government, the welfare bill rose by some sixty percent to £200bn. That means they have to pay for that under their taxes, which is simply not fair.”

There are several things that Iain Duncan Smith knows to be true but is not mentioning.

He knows that the majority of the welfare budget goes on pensions and other benefits for older people that the government is not, in any case, proposing to cut.

He knows that many benefits, such as housing benefit and disability living allowance, go to people who are employed as well as people who are unemployed. Some of those “working very hard” are among the beneficiaries of the welfare budget.

He knows that unemployed people, as well as working people, pay taxes. They do not pay income tax, but they pay VAT. Even homeless people pay VAT.

He knows that a major reason for the rise in the welfare budget is that tax credits are subsidising poverty pay, while housing benefit is going into the pockets of landlords at a time of rising private sector rents. But it’s not landlords and employers who will lose out from the coalition’s cuts.

Iain Duncan Smith knows all these things. But he’s not going to mention them. The bishops – and the rest of us – need to proclaim them loudly and clearly.