At what expense?
Wednesday was a good day, one of those days which serves to convince that the life and work of a bishop is probably the best you can have. I was invited to visit a church school: St Peter’s and St Paul in Lincoln. ‘Nothing unusual about that’ I hear you say, but it was ‘unusual’ because the school is a Roman Catholic foundation, and I was the first Anglican bishop to ever go there. So, the usual round of bishopy things ensued, and all great fun: first of all a round table meeting with the Governors who welcomed, as I did, a different faith viewpoint, then a trip into the church next door for school assembly, followed by a tour around the school, a ‘grilling’ from the School Council (we have nothing to fear in replacing certain present day MPs, any one of these youngsters would fit the bill, and honestly), then a wonderful meal prepared by parishioners and, finally, a visit to the excellent gym facilities and to meet children from the RC feeder primary school. I was then disgorged out into the street with grateful thanks for my visit and a hatful of lovely memories.
But it is to the meal I want to return: for I sat with four young men in school uniform, who were attentive to this funny bishop and made charming and witty conversation. ‘Nothing strange about that’ I hear you say again, and again I reply that it was different because these four ardent scholars were Muslims and Afghani refugees. As I talked to these boys of fifteen or sixteen, I was made aware that they had fled the Taliban in their home country and that, although they had family back home, they had no idea whether they were alive or dead or where they were. One young boy had witnessed his father being executed apparently. It brings you up sharp doesn’t it, and it was if time stood still and the world zoomed in on us as I listened to their stories, which they told with trusting smiles on their faces? In the middle of the benign setting of a Catholic school and lovely Lincolnshire, I was being regaled with tales of such horror that my heart recoiled and I realised just what it can mean when forces of power within any country become corrupt and dishonest or extremist in any form.
It is for this reason, that I am optimistic about the expenses scandal, because it demonstrates that, whilst we have certain individuals in government who seem patently dishonest and self-seeking, the British electorate still expect impeccable behaviour from those with whom they entrust power. Despite the very real threat that the BNP and others will make capital out of this debacle, surely our people have demonstrated their good sense and their desire for honest incorruptibility: could such a people entrust power to foul extremists?