The Archbishop of York called last night for Britain to use the credit crunch as a time to reassess its priorities as a country and to rediscover its vision as a nation.
Dr John Sentamu the nation had been tempted to put its trust in "false securities" and "false gods".
"Governments and individuals are both radically reassessing their priorities and values as a result and so are the religious communities. Because of this, I believe it is also a unique opportunity," he said in a lecture delivered to the Smith Institute in London.
Referring to the work of William Beveridge, William Temple and R H Tawney as the architects of the welfare state, Dr Sentamu reflected on the situation which faced the men at the end of the war.
“The reforms which Tawney, Temple and Beveridge achieved in the 1940s represented the apogee of a shared ‘big vision’ for Britain in the last century," he said.
"Intellectuals, church leaders and government agreed both on the big vision and on the ways in which it could be delivered. It is a tragedy, to me, that we have increasingly lost this big vision.”
In proposing a solution to rediscovering a big vision for Britain, Dr Sentamu suggested a three-fold approach based upon “freedom, social fellowship and service”.
Stressing the need for an interdependent approach, the Archbishop said: “Any analysis of society which treats people either as just individuals with no collective responsibility or on the other hand, as mere objects of economic and social forces is bound to fail.
"We are not just individuals confronted by the state. Instead, we belong to society through many different communities, geographical, ideological, faith and in many other ways.”
Commenting on the loss of vision, the Archbishop criticised the policies of successive governments which led to “over-cautious policy-formation, fear and irritation” linked to multiculturalism.
"Any sense of a shared common culture is eroded, risking increasing segregation,” he said.
Dr Sentamu also called for a re-examination of the relationship between the Government and the people.
"For the real issue is not just what our government can do for us but what we can all do," he said. "What we need to do today is to re-engage people in the whole process of how we plan and live together as a nation.”
The Archbishop quoted the Prime Minister’s view that being British involved “choosing solidarity in preference to selfishness, thus creating out of the idea of duty and responsibility, the Britain of civic responsibility and the public realm” where British values were best carried out “by local clubs, associations, societies and endeavours – from churches and trade unions to municipal initiatives and friendly societies”.
Dr Sentamu the Prime Minister’s vision of Britishness had "much to commend it" but warned it would flounder if it did not allow for participation, involvement and commitment from individuals and communities.
"The Government needs to bridge the gap between its rhetoric of devolving power to local communities and what is happening in practice.”
The Archbishop concluded: “The vision for our country will be served much better if the Government is able to show that it trusts the people, and has confidence in communities to demonstrate this sense of ‘fairness’ and ‘charity’.
"We need to encourage the Government to believe that they can indeed carry out the values contained in Gordon Brown’s concept of Britishness in their policies.
"Most importantly therefore, in order to provide the big vision we need, Brown’s vision of Britishness must engage with what is happening to people in their daily lives.”
Credit crunch is opportunity to rediscover nation's vision - Sentamu
Published 14 January 2009