Power 2010 puts prelates in a political pickle

By Jonathan Bartley
February 24, 2010

The Church of England, and in particular its bishops, find themselves in a very interesting position today, with the announcement of the Power2010 pledge.

Bishops have been speaking favourably about the initiative in which we have also been an active partner.

The campaign to identify the five key reforms that will change the way politics is done, has been in four stages. The first was to gather over 100 ideas in a mass consultation. These ideas were then organised by academics from Southampton University and fed into a Deliberative Poll to draw up a shortlist. The third stage - a public vote in which over 100,000 votes were cast – has now been completed, and we have the final five reforms which will now be put to candidates in the form of a pledge at the general election (stage 4).

When I took part in a debate in Parliament a few weeks ago on the role of bishops in the House of Lords, the convener of the 26 bishops, Tim Stevens (Bishop of Leicester) claimed that people didn’t really mind a great deal about their presence in the Second Chamber. He cited Power 2010 in his defence. Perhaps it was that conviction which formed the basis of their ready support for the initiative.

But along with his colleagues, he may not now be that happy to discover that an all-elected Second Chamber came number in at number three in the priorities of those who voted.

Bishops have been hoping to maintain 20 of their 26 places in a reformed House of Lords, should it be 80 per cent elected and 20 per cent appointed (ie a much bigger percentage of the appointed places than they currently have). In an all- elected chamber there would be no places reserved for them.

Amongst the Power2010 partners are a number of Christian and other groups such as the Charities Parliament, Faithworks, the Salvation Army, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Church of Scotland, who will presumably stand by the results of the democratic initiative and continue to give it their backing. Indeed, churches should be key in stage 4 of the campaign, often being the ones organising general election hustings.

But what will the bishops do? Will they abandon the democratic initiative because it didn’t deliver the result that they wanted? Or will they just quietly drop their promotion of it, hide away, and hope that it goes away?

Power2010 point out that you don't have to agree with all five reforms to join the call for a reforming of Parliament (HT to @pmphillips). So let's see what happens. Watch this space, as well as the potential space at the hustings meetings, and indeed the places in the House of Lords which might soon be vacant.

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