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Issue 4 - April 1972
Will You Get Together?
An interview with the Bishop of Durham

I'm cynical about politicians, on polling day you'll find me in the pub, but being a 'tame anarchist' I'm interested in guys within the existing system who are making things easier for us downtrod plebs.

The Bishop of Durham was inaugurated in 1966 and over the years he's earned himself a great deal of respect from all sorts of folk. He's also made a lot of enemies. Perhaps one of the nastiest attacks on him was made in Dec. 1969. Brig Branson (then chairman of the Northern Counties Conservative Clubs and a member of the Conservative National Executive) had said that in order to crush demonstrations, marches and other left-wing activities the country needed a defence force of "20,000 men and women who must be able to use simple weapons (rifles and machine guns)."

In his reply the Bishop said that if he had to choose between the two he'd choose demonstrations rather than a defence force. Branson reacted with predictable malice.

A police state?
When I interviewed him one of the things we discussed was the kind of anti-freedom propaganda which is being churned out in our society 24 hours a day. I said that I felt that Britain is moving towards a police state:

"The SIS (Special Incidents Squad of the Special Branch) are jumping here there and everywhere, what with the Aldershot Bombing. Northern Ireland has got the authorities on their toes, they're getting paranoid. The 'Festival of Light' is an example of the most repressive elements of religion."

"I take all you've said by way of a broad survey. Certainly, as we'd all grant, democracy isn't merely one man one vote as it were, it's something much more free and fulfilling t the individual, that gives the individual status within the whole society. That's why I hate the extremes of both sides."

"What is your attitude to the 'Festival of Light'?"

"I'm always conscious of how complicated these movements are, though I do see the features of it that lend itself to your sort of criticism. When I see the papers there is much of the kind I expected. In so far as it was: 'we're against x, y, z, we deplore all this and we protest against all that ...', that would have just put it as dogma in my own mind, but there is just a paragraph here and there which is endeavouring to be positive."

Certainly the Bishop doesn't accept the Church as it is, on many occasions in the past he's been very critical, always emphasising that the Church often fails to be concerned with the realities and injustices of society.

In May 1970 at the annual meeting of the League of Friends of Winterton (mental) Hospital he said, "We have to express ... this inter-dependence of all of us ... the line between the sick and the healthy is by no means easy to draw." But he won't agree with a Wilhelm Reich analysis which claims that social ills arise because society is based upon sexually repressive structures, i.e. I asked him what he thought about some of the statements made in the 1936 SEXPOL manifesto.

"Sexual chaos is: referring to the law of matrimonial duty in the matrimonial bed. Contracting a sexual liaison for life without any previous sexual knowledge of the partner."

"Within present structures of society, the permanent marriage bond and chastity before marriage, there has been licensed rape. But must this be so and is it going to be the enhancement of personality to break present structures down?

"It would be a bold man who could specify what sexual morality is likely to be in the future when you think of words like alternative society. But supposing that it is a fact that many people only find sexual satisfaction worth having after some years of experimenting together?

"The three areas in which men and women are self deceivers ever are: property, money and sex, folk can pretend to do for the most high flying reasons what in fact they're doing for the most self interested reasons."

Pretty trad stuff, maybe he's right? Who can talk about natural sexuality when you're faced with a consumer society?

The Bishop has a great deal of sympathy for the workers, all miners know the support he's given them in the past. When the Fuel Bill was going through the House of Lords in Dec. 1967 he said a lot of good things.

"... the monetary provisions in the Bill are not, by themselves, enough." He said that miners had told him alternative work would not be provided too soon in the area "because the Government fears that if it is it will empty the pits of men."

But if you talk in terms of the "workers being oppressed by the bosses" once again he is reserved. I put this question to him; "Capitalism allows democracy for about 2% of the population; the bosses. Do you think the system favours selfish interests?"

"I think free enterprise does tend to be segregated to the people who want to be free and they want to be free just by themselves. My instinct is towards social planning but having seen this it can be oppressive on human beings. I'd much sooner have a welfare state than the kind of state I grew up in, but I can't help but see that this can somehow sap people's individuality."

"Talk about planning: it was 65/66 wasn't it? The freeze on incomes. Since then there has been a big spurt on productivity deals. Trade unions grasped at these because they were in a restricted situation, a 3½% ceiling on wage rises. The result was that: the workers accepted oppressive work conditions for what in the long run turned out to be no increased wage; trade union democracy, the shop stewards, were flattened until it's come to a head recently. This was laid down in Rootes and ICI documents etc, as a strategy to be applied against the workers."

"Quite honestly Alan, my only comment on that would be that there's so much all through industry that I see as fulfilling nobody in the last resort. There's got to be some radical rethinking and action."

The most radical rethinking I knew of was the recent 'Blueprint for Survival' (summarised in MG no.3):

"I do see quite clearly the futility of this growth economy as a way of defining policy. Obviously it could be a proper policy for a limited area for a limited time; but you can't go on growing in all directions everywhere for ever, because somebody else is going to be doing the same. And while it might buy you five years it couldn't help but become completely calamitous in the end."

"Do you find that there's been some reaction to the Blueprint within parliament?"

"As far as the Church goes this whole business of Blueprint for Survival has certainly been very much advertised, referred to, developed - there's no question of this. If anyone takes the long-term view and if anyone should be dissatisfied with the present it should be religious people."

"Have any of the points, let's say, the power tax, the amortisation tax, the tax upon private transport and the encouragement of the railways, have any points ...?"

"I can't say we spent hours on that, but in discussion of these things the whole breadth of the problem and the far ranging solution has been the theme. I can't claim to be a leader in this area but certainly there have been two or three bishops who've discussed this with me."

"When I go into industrial disputes it's like going through lush undergrowth in a tropical jungle. You can't see where to cut a way, the factors and features are intricately complex, getting deeper and deeper into the forest of misunderstandings, confusions, short term ideas and so on, and to me the great merit of something like your Blueprint for Survival is, without being married to a conceptual system which can be as oppressive as the rule set down by some body, this has got a kind of dominant idea that is freeing men to see widely.

"But only of course in order to get them more creatively attacking the grass roots problems, I don't want to separate these two at all. It's just that these other issues get discussed in a better atmosphere.

"There was developed in the Northern Province of the Church of England the idea of a project called 'Action North-East'. And what will this do? - it won't be a plan, imposed from above, telling everyone what to read and what to do, etc. What it's trying to say is: 'will you get together?', people of all churches and perhaps people of none, who see a problem they want to discuss, to find an individuality in grappling with a problem which no-one's got the answer to, and hoping the problem can be tackled by action."

What can the Bishop achieve? I don't know, but personally I feel that if everyone in authority was like him there wouldn't be anything like so much obstruction put in the way of people who are trying to find freedom as there is at present.

Just before we went to print the Bishop had a heart attack. Apparently it wasn't too serious but we all hope that he will have a swift recovery and is going to be active for many more years.

Many thanks to the 'Durham Advertiser' for acting as 'a source' for info.