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Archbishop's toast at the Lord Mayor's Dinner at Guildhall

Monday 15th November 2010

The Archbishop of Canterbury proposed a toast to the late Lord Mayor and the Court of Alderman at the Lord Mayor's Dinner at Guildhall.

My Lord Mayor, Late Lord Mayor, My Lord High Chancellor, Prime Minister, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Aldermen, Chief Commoner, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my privilege to speak in appreciation of the tireless work done by Nick and Claire in the past year's mayoralty and to thank them most warmly for all they have given to us in these twelve months. As a Director of the London Marathon Trust, Nick will be familiar with the challenges of covering great distances in short times; and the last year has certainly been on in which great distances have had to be covered as the City continues to examine itself in the wake of crisis and the country gets used not only to a fresh government but to what looks like a fresh approach to a government, seeking to give more power and decision-making liberty to local communities. Through all this, Nick has retained calm and perspective; his shrewd wit is familiar to us all, and he has always approached the issues of his period in office with a clear and quizzical eye, never afraid to share a deeply informed and intelligent personal view, never just a mouthpiece for orthodoxies, eager to take forward the indispensable debates about values and ethical standards in our financial institutions that we are all increasingly involved in. And I want to say a special word of thanks for his and Claire's hospitality to the Bishops earlier this year at a memorable even in the Mansion House.

Another year, another Lord Mayor- and this time another Prime Minster as well; but one whose curriculum vitae has some resonances with the not-too-distant past.

Perhaps the most distinguished Etonian Prime Minister of the last century was a man who set great store by the need for politicians to have time to read novels (it may, of course, have had something to do with the fact that he belonged to one of the great publishing dynasties of Britain). And his own tastes in this respect were resolutely and appropriately conservative. Long before popular enthusiasm had rediscovered Anthony Trollope, Harold Macmillan read him faithfully and repeatedly.

It is a fact which throws some light on the seriousness and the sense of adventure with which Macmillan approached the business of appointing bishops. But what is harder to work out is how far his reading of Trollope's great political novels affected his view of politics. I suspect that in the 1950's, Trollope's political world may well have seemed rather remote. The human types he depicts - well, yes; human nature in politics doesn't change all that much. But the vertiginous plottings and dealings that made and broke governments in the days before a fully settled party system - that was surely a thing of the past.

And now? Well, we have had a couple of years in which Trollope's unforgettable depiction of a financial world feverishly driven by speculation and the unrestrained trading of bad debts has suddenly become rather more contemporary than we might have expected; very much The Way We Live Now, to cite one of his most celebrated titles. And now on top of that we have a coalition government for the first time in decades; and readers of The Prime Minister- among whom, I hope, other distinguished guests this evening are to be numbered- will recognize certain dramas being replayed with uncanny similarity. With these uncomfortable prophecies in view, I become a little anxious when I turn to Trollope's Barchester Chronicles and read there of civil wars within the Church of England and bitter political wrangling over appointments-but then I breathe a sigh of relief and say, 'At least that could never happen again'...

I'd probably better not quote in full Trollope's wonderful and scathing summary of the response of the press to the idea of a coalition - though I think many would smile wryly when Trollope (ch.8) says of them that, 'having...been very loud in exposing the disgraceful collapse of government affairs...[they] could hardly refuse their support to any attempt at a feasible arrangement.' And many hearts will warm in sympathy to the earnest and rather dim Mr Boffin (ch.11) who, while instinctively not very keen on the way the political wind is blowing, solemnly concludes that 'A man will not, surely, be damned for belonging to a Coalition Ministry.' Good news, I trust, for many here.

One of the possible morals of all of this is that the study of the humanities - including Victorian literature - so far from being an idle luxury on which public money should not be wasted is in fact one of the foundations for a critical understanding of the present, and so for a healthy civil and political environment: a necessary way of putting into perspective any frantic and short term responses to the challenges of the day. But I'll resist the urge to improve the occasion with a discourse on the philosophy of Higher Education. There is a wider issue here.

And in a way it is about Macmillan's desire for politicians to have a hinterland. We are all discussing what a 'Big Society' might mean, and that discussion is, I believe, the single most important contribution so far made by the Coalition Government to the long term health of our country. Macmillan's concern might be paraphrased as a concern that a good society must be led by, and should be nourishing, big minds and souls, minds and souls with more in them than the urge to solve immediate problems. The language of the Big Society puts before us the ideal of a social fabric in which we are able to be generous and creative in our relationships. And this ability is secured when we have a generous and enthusiastic sense of the richness of human life itself - a sense which for a great many of us is inseparable from the vision offered by our faith. It will not come by legislation and it will not come as an anxious response to stringency and scarcity. We all understand the urgency of cost-cutting in our very straitened circumstances. What many hope and pray is that the necessary severity of all this will not edge out what will in the long run serve us best - the resourcing of persons with minds and souls large enough for the task of rebuilding and sustaining a trustful and compassionate community.

After all, that is, finally, what a city ought to be. Words like 'civil' and 'civilization' tell us by their shape that the life of the city is one in which there is room for humanity to do more than solve problems and make profit. The right tapestry of the life of this City, in its charities as much as in its rituals, bears witness to such a conviction and it is a vision that needs robust defence to the extent that it declares the inadequacy, indeed the destructiveness, of the 'problems-and-profits' approach. The chastening effects of crisis are still being felt, and there remains a great deal to be done in reinstalling trust and realism in our financial life overall. But the City has always retained large horizons. I believe, my Late Lord Mayor, that the contribution of the City to the Big Society we hope to see growing will be at this level of social ideals and moral imagination, not only in playing its part in financial recovery. City and Church and Government will have their arguments about the justice or the realism of this or that bit of policy. But I should like to think that we might listen together to the counsel of that remarkably original and subversive Conservative, Harold Macmillan, and share something of the task of enlarging rather than shrinking the hearts of our citizens in the undoubtedly challenging days ahead of us all.

My Late Lord Mayor your Appeal for the year has foregrounded two areas of human experience that are sharply relevant to all this. In promoting sporting and musical excellence among young people in severely challenged communities in London, Pitch Perfect has exemplified just that enlarging of hope and imagination that I have spoken of, and it fully deserves the support you have given and encouraged. It is this breadth of horizon that will be the saving of our civil, civic and civilised life in the days ahead, and you have given distinguished leadership in this regard.

So, with renewed thanks to Nick and Claire, and to all who have supported them, in particular the Sheriffs, and with warmest good wishes for a time of recuperation and enjoyment ahead, I invite you to rise and join me in drinking the health of the Late Lord Mayor and the Court of Aldermen.

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