in the back
Baptism of ire?
Man in the Eye , Issue 1514
andrew-selous.jpg
BROAD CHURCH? Andrew Selous, who will speak up for the Church of England in parliament, having once declared his membership of a more democratic Baptist church
THE Second Church Estates Commissioner is the MP who speaks for the Church of England in parliament. Now that previous incumbent Dame Caroline Spelman has left the Commons after months of abuse and death threats for her pro-Remain views, the job has gone to Justin Welby’s fellow Old Etonian Andrew “Zealous” Selous, the God-bothering MP for South West Bedfordshire.

The appointment has raised some eyebrows at Westminster, not least because there was a more obvious candidate: one Theresa May MP, regular churchgoer and vicar’s daughter. But there is also puzzlement about Selous’s religious loyalties. The announcement from Downing Street on 10 January described him as “a confirmed member of the Church of England”. The C of E press release said that “Andrew Selous attends St Mary the Virgin, Studham. He and his family are also active worshipping members of the community of the Vineyard, St Albans.” Yet in a parliamentary debate in 2004 he announced: “I am now a member of a Baptist church.”

By this he presumably meant the Vineyard, an American evangelical movement which was introduced to the UK by the parents of mandolin-twiddler Marcus Mumford. Vineyard churches are not part of the ecumenical body Churches Together in England, so they are not officially “in communion” with the Church of England. The reference to St Mary’s Studham looks like a way of glossing over the new commissioner’s active allegiance to a rival church – one which “has a reputation for being a bit freaky”, as a prominent Anglican layman puts it.

Anglican-style democracy
Selous now tells the Church Times that he is “delighted and honoured” to take the post, which gives him an automatic seat on both the General Synod and the governing board of the Church Commissioners, the Anglican equivalent of the Vatican Bank. “I have a strong belief in the role the church plays in society, making a unique contribution to our national life,” he said – though he was less complimentary in that 2004 debate. Celebrating his membership of “a Baptist church that is democratic, where power flows from the bottom up”, he added: “The Church of England is not like that. It is hierarchical and very top-down in its structure.”

Selous will soon experience Anglican-style democracy for himself, at the February session of the synod. On day one, the bishops will invite him to vote to welcome gay couples who are “Living in Love and Faith”. Selous may find this a challenge, given that he has voted consistently in parliament against gay rights and condemned equal marriage as “directly contrary to what Jesus said”. On day two, he will be asked to support measures to radically reduce carbon emissions. Although Selous does support “nature restoration” (ie cutting down fewer trees), he voted against carbon capture measures and for taxing renewable energy production at the same rate as fossil fuel power stations. Jesus’s views on that are unreported.

In many ways the new commissioner is a happy-clappy version of Chris “Failing” Grayling. As junior prisons minister, Selous oversaw the disastrous privatisation of probation services – and introduced a ban on smoking in prisons which was later deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court, though only after widespread riots. Selous was also PPS to Iain Duncan Smith at the Department for Work and Pensions during the botched introduction of Universal Credit. He has clearly taken to heart Jesus’s words in the gospel of St Luke about the blessedness of the poor: since entering parliament in 2001, Selous has voted to reduce benefit payments 53 times.

PS: Selous is not, however, the most surprising MP ever chosen as Second Church Estates Commissioner. That honour belongs to Labour’s Sir Stuart Bell, who served a record-breaking term from 1997 to 2010. No stranger to the deadly sin of sloth (“Is Sir Stuart Bell Britain’s laziest MP?” the Independent asked in 2011, revealing that he hadn’t held a constituency surgery for 14 years), he was even keener on lust, most notoriously in his porn novel, Paris ‘69. Here’s a sample of Bell’s prose: “And she keeps on sucking, sucking and nibbling and filling me with yearning, with desire to thrust her back on the bed now, strap her to it… I wanted that she be tied to the bed, that I dominate her, rape her, burst inside her and be cleansed.”

More top stories in the latest issue:

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CHARITY ENDS AT HOME
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APPEAL ON THE HORIZON
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LOSING SUPPORT
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OFFSHORE TRAVEL
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Next issue on sale: 4th February 2020
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