Tuesday, 8 February 2011

On votes, rules and resistance

Yesterday, for no doubt excellent reasons, the powers that be attempted to make an end run around the constitution which had been set up for the Dioceses Commission. It didn't work. There's more on the General Synod Blog here if you are interested. The point that I did my best to hammer home in the debate is that if you have a set of procedures then you ought to follow them. If they prove themselves unfit for purpose then you change the procedures. What you don't do is circumvent them, because that weakens your whole system.

That was yesterday. Then today we have what looks on the surface like a similar situation. The Business Committee of General Synod is the body that decides Synod's agenda. It is mostly (I think) either directly or indirectly elected by Synod itself. The rules that govern it state that its Chair must be one of the six people elected from General Synod to the Archbishops' Council. One of these people is nominated by Archbishops' Council in consultation with the Appointments Committee, and the name sent to Synod for approval.

As things have fallen out this time round, the person in question is the Bishop of Dover. Needless to say, this has caused some muttering among those for whom a purple shirt often serves dual purpose as a red rag. One person has even congratulated me on what I said yesterday, and then gone on to say that 'something must be done' about the Bishop of Dover being Chair of the Business Committee. Given the amount of influence the House of Bishops already has upon the Synod Agenda I can't say I'm wild about the idea either, but my point yesterday still stands. There is always an argument from expediency for ignoring bits of the rules you don't like. It is very unwise to allow such arguments to prevail.

Anyway, what would normally be a synodical rubber stamp this afternoon to confirm the Bishop's appointment as Chair of the Business Committee turned instead into a debate, and as a result a procedural motion was put to adjourn, and it passed. The point of the adjournement was to avoid the situation of having an appointment rejected that had been proposed by one of the Archbishops in the presence of the person to be appointed. It has, of course, resulted in the ironic situation that it is now up to the Business Committee (acting chair, the Bishop of Dover), to decide when the proposal comes back...

I abstained on the question of adjournment. I think, although I am not quite certain, that if that motion had not gone through I would have voted in favour of the Bishop of Dover's appointment. It's the same point as I was making yesterday - the procedure for appointment was followed, and it gave a result that people didn't like. That's life. If there are enough people on Synod who don't want to see a Bishop chairing the Business Committee then they need to change the Synod Standing Orders to that effect.

However, in terms of what one might in rather grandiose fashion describe as Synod power politics, the last couple of days have turned out to be quite interesting. Synod - despite the fact that we are right at the beginning of the quinquennium - has been really rather feisty. There was a certain tension during the last synod over questions of authority and accountability, and a feeling occasionally that 'they' were making decisions in advance and just relying on Synod to roll over and do as it was told. It looks to me as though this has carried over into the new quinquennium. I do hope that 'they' (whoever they are) have taken note of the last couple of days. Attempts - whether real or imagined - to pre-empt decisions of the whole Synod, or assumptions that it will do as it is told, may well be greeted with rather more resistance than we have seen in the past.

Perhaps this hasn't been such a dull session after all...