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Sunday, 4 July 2010
Bishop of Reading
no he isn't. Jeffrey John, pictured. But he nearly was. And now he has been shortlisted for the bishopric of Southwark. The Prime Minister is said to be supportive of this appointment. And the Archbishop of Canterbury has not blocked it. So I hope it happens. It will draw the line under a very nasty episode in the history of theChurch of England if it does. Some most unattractive elements claiming to be Christians managed to get his appointment as Bishop of Reading blocked because of his sexuality. As if that is anyone's business. I remember the whole thing well. When I heard about it in 2003 I wanted to table an Early Day Motion, but I knew it would look a little strange if only one Reading MP's name was there. I also knew that Mr Salter would be reluctant, because of his own homophobia (why is he so worried?) and because taking a clear position on an issue without first ensuring a supportive headline and letters page in His Master's Voice was not his way. So I buttonholed him in front of a number of other MPs after a vote, and he signed. He said nothing publicly on the issue, in Reading or elsewhere, leaving me to take any media flak there might be. Which there was not. Some "evangelicals" had a go at me, but they were not exactly my, or the Labour Party's, strongest supporters anyway. And I thought if they were having a pop I must be doing something right. I raised the matter at Business Question, beginning my question to the Leader of the House with "Will he join me in condemning the militant tendency in the Church of England?" The then leader of the House, John Reid, a Catholic, looked mystified at first, but fortunately his deputy, Ben Bradshaw, who is gay and a high Anglican, knew exactly what I was talking about and whispered in his boss's ear. In the end Jeffrey was forced to withdraw. I found out later that Mr Salter had invited Jeffrey to dinner at the House of Commons, in order to be seen there with him, but said nothing about it in Reading. I've nothing against the present Bishop of Reading, but I wish it hadn't happened that way. The Telegraph, reporting these matters, says Jeffrey's appointment could split the Church, but offers no evidence for that supposition, So, shadowy group of men who will vote this week on the appointment of the Bishop of Southwark, vote as you know you should. And Jeffrey, come and see us again in Strasbourg.