Priests and politicians


Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminded me of the differences between priests and politicians earlier this week in Committee Room 14. I listened to him and former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson talking about the end of poverty and war. The Archbishop spoke about the interdependence of our family of humans. A MP suggested that it is only religious and cultural leaders, not politicians, who can ask people to be good. It is everyone’s responsibility, the Archbishop replied.


I spent some days thinking about whether it is the job of priests to try and overcome divisions while politicians are always partisan and in the business of taking sides. Partisanship is vital for democracy; the imposition of only one view amounts to tyranny, after all.


Last night the government and opposition were arguing about whether the inquiry into banking should be judge-led or parliamentary, causing a verbal battle between sides that even had members of the gallery  laughing, whooping and tutting. The doubtful morality of banks has led general agreement that better regulation is needed. So, as Tutu insisted, politicians clearly do intervene to force people to be good. Although agreement seemed impossible, two hours into the debate the Chair of the Select Committee, Andrew Tyrie, suddenly changed the tone by saying he would only lead an inquiry with Cross-party support:


“A hundred years ago, partisanship made a mockery of an attempt by a Select Committee to investigate the Marconi scandal. The Conservative Opposition killed any value that that inquiry might have supplied, and as a result Select Committees were written out of the piece for inquiries for nearly 100 years. I think it vital for Parliament that another clash of the Titans—which seems to be going on now—does not leave us in a position in which we, as Parliament, cannot subject this issue to an inquiry of any type.”


The government won the votes, and at once by a bit of nifty procedural footwork Ed Balls, George Osborne and Andrew Tyrie all got up on a ‘Point of Order’ and agreed to work together on the Joint Committee. As Ed Balls tweeted a few hours later:We respect Andrew Tyrie - he will now chair a narrow inquiry & we will work with him.’ This inquiry will be both gripping and influential. If watching, Peter Mannion’s twitter tip may be helpful: ‘ Watch for Andrew Tyrie's eyebrows. If they rise beyond angle of Tower Bridge when fully open, he thinks someone is lying.’