Living together with similarities and difference

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing
Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for West Worthing

One of the first messages received this new year was from a constituent who voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, having voted in 1975 to stay in the Common Market.

He also mentioned Nicholas Ridley, a member of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet: Virginia and I had each served under him as junior ministers. He died at 64 of lung cancer after much smoking.

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He was a delight to work with and to work for. When there was fun to be had or praise to be received, he pushed us forward. When storm clouds approached and if blame, merited or undeserved, was coming he would be the umbrella or the whipping boy. He always knew the briefing and the background to an issue as well as I did.

Each of us was a ‘national interest’ person in politics: he was perhaps more free-market than me in economics though I fully understood that ministers are seldom good at running nationalised monopoly industries. My insight built on experience gained when I worked as an industrial relations officer in the publicly owned British Steel Corporation. We had to ask for and wait for government permission to vary hourly pay rates for more than a score of workers.

Labour ministers wanted the Corporation to be more entrepreneurial without giving the Board the freedom to achieve the desired result. Those were the decades when a 90-minute debate late at night would give Parliamentary approval for thousands of millions of pounds to bail out one after another of the great publicly owned state enterprises. Conservative ministers were not much better in those times.

One reason for thinking about Nick, later Lord Ridley, is the history of his kinsman, an earlier Nicholas Ridley who was the only Bishop of London and Westminster after the short-lived Diocese of Westminster had been dissolved. He died at 55 at the stake in 1555 as an Oxford martyr. He had helped Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to compile the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

One reason why I am fond of his memory is his tolerant handling of the now absurd difficulty of requiring newly elected bishops to wear a cope and surplice. John Hooper was to become Bishop of Gloucester but declined office because of the requirement to wear the right clothes and to make an oath by the saints. During Edward VI’s six years as king, there was a compromise that might have come from the later reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. Get ready for a rare word.

Vestments were declared a matter of adiaphora, or Res Indifferentes – things indifferent, not an article of faith. Others could wear the conventional robes; Hooper need not. This was about the time when the church of the Austin Friars was declared a Stranger church, a designated place of worship for Protestant refugees from Continental Europe where practices and reforms were taken further than the Church of England.

When first selected and then elected in Worthing West, I was pleased that the constituency was notable for the highest church attendance in the country. People here will understand St Paul’s concessions to Jewish traditions in the early church.

Ridley and Hooper became engaged in a split in the English Reformation. In one example of Ridley’s tolerant responses to Hooper’s dogmatism about the priesthood of all believers, he wrote that it did not follow that all Christians needed to wear the same clothes. Essentially, Ridley suggested apostolic and evangelical lenity rather than violent tyranny.

Ridley died because he signed the declaration that Lady Jane Grey was to be the new Queen. He disrespected the status of the later Queens Mary and Elizabeth.

More cheerfully, I like to reflect on the three-wheel tuk-tuk auto rickshaws in Sri Lanka. Between the driver and the windscreen there may be a Buddha or a Hindu god or the scene of the Christ’s Last Supper.

It can be a common aim to promote knowledge and tolerance of different traditions, while agreeing on essential obligations to care for each other, whether familiar or new to us.

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