Rowan Williams warns against 'messianic leadership' with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump

Rowan Williams is warning of 'messianic leadership' with the rise of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury said the UK needed to learn lessons from fascism's growth in 1930s Germany as it navigated the withdrawal from the European Union.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams criticised Theresa May's talk of Christian values.Andrew Winning/Reuters

Referring to a new edition of a 1940s book, Darkness Over Germany: a Warning from History, Williams told the Guardian: 'One of the things [the author] notes is the deep disillusion in politics, and the romantic, idealistic feeling that if we get the right leader, then things will change. As trust in conventional politics goes down, expectations of messianic leadership go up.'

Asked if there were parallels to Donald Trump's rule as US President he said: 'That's right. But history never just repeats itself. Whatever happens next, it's not going to be a rerun of Germany in the 1930s. But some of the symptoms, and some of things we ought to be learning from, are still there. When you lose confidence in political process, that's when some very strange people come out of the woodwork.'

In an intervention that enraged some conservative critics, Williams said 'the rhetoric that comes out of the current White House is pretty contemptuous of the rule of law' and warned there was a danger of 'executive power emerging independently of the rule of law ... in other words, an erosion of real accountability in public life'.

Moving on to Theresa May, Williams heavily criticised her talk of Christian values.

'It's a phrase that's flung around constantly. The heart of Christian values has something to do with mutuality – a real commitment to and investment in the wellbeing of your neighbour, and the confidence that they are invested in your wellbeing. Not everyone shares these values,' he told the Guardian.

'The job of Christian communities is to keep arguing, keep nudging ... The church is obliged to be both a good and an awkward neighbour to the state. It earns its place in a plural state by asking certain unwelcome questions.'

He called for a 'systematic programme of prevention' for issues such as homelessness and warned Brexit was 'taking our eyes off the ball' in some important difficulties.

'We look at how much money we need to throw at a problem to solve it, rather than in the longer term what we need to invest to stop these problems arising,' he said.

'There is innate short-termism in our political language ... We need to build as broad a consensus that we can on long-term issues [rather than] party political issues for this election. If we don't, the spring coils tighter and tighter.'

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