TWO years ago The Times was a strong supporter of the appointment of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury; it ran several articles extolling his exceptional qualities. Alas, there has been a falling out and in recent days the newspaper has carried two critical leading articles about Dr William's recent speech in which he asserted that there is in “a general weakening of trust in the political system of our nation”.

The Times has two main complaints. The first, that the Archbishop wraps his thoughts in obscure language, is easy to agree with. Try this: “Government of whatever kind restores lost trust above all by its willingness to attend to what lies beyond the urgency of asserting control and retaining visible and simple initiative, by patient accountability and the fredom to think again, even to admit error of miscalculation.” The second, that he has an obligation to display impartiality and to avoid any hint of ideological partisanship, is less easily accepted. Dr Williams' opposition to the Iraq war was not a matter of ideology. He thought it wrong and surely was entitled not only to think so but also to make his view known. In the past, when contemplating military action, Prime Ministers have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to say that it would be “a just war”. John Major asked this of Dr Williams' predecessor who obliged. Understandably, Mr Blair did not bother to ask.

The fact that Rowan Williams is critical of the current government does not amount to partisanship. If the Conservatives returned to power he would doubtless speak in similar terms if he thought it necessary. The value of his observations lie in their independence and of the moral authority they convey.


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