Senior CofE clergy attack 'immorality' of right-to-buy scheme

Rt Rev David Walker condemned David Cameron's pledge to extend the right-to-buy to more than 1.3 million tenants of housing associations.

Senior Church of England clergy are attacking the "immorality" of forcing housing associations to sell homes to tenants.

The Bishop of Manchester David Walker, who is passionate about social housing, condemned the Conservatives after David Cameron pledged to extend the right-to-buy to more than 1.3 million tenants of housing associations.

The Church and the Conservatives have been at war since the bishops published their 52-page general election letter in which they called for a "fresh moral vision", warned that democracy was failing and condemned a "growing appetite" to exploit grievances and find scapegoats.

The Conservative pledge to extend home ownership to thousands more social housing tenants, which is at the heart of the party's manifesto, has already prompted angry reactions from housing associations and there has even been a threat of a legal challenge under Europe's human rights legislation.

Bishop Walker described the plans on Twitter as the "most blatant transfer of charity assets to private ownership since Henry VIII sold off the monasteries."

He also said on Twitter that the plans were "economic nonsense" and immoral.

The Church's lead bishop on housing, the Bishop of Rochester James Langstaff, also tweeted that there are "real questions" about figures but welcomed the propulsion of housing up the agenda as a result of the controversy.

Soon after the Act of Supremacy was passed in 1534, separating the Church in England from Rome and making the monarch its head, Henry VIII disbanded the nation's 900 religious houses, seized and sold their income and assets and used much of the proceeds to fund war.

Historial novelist Philippa Gregory describes in The King's Curse, the latest in The Cousins' War series, the terrible social consequences of the dissolution of the monasteries. As many as 12,000 monks and nuns were cast out, and the poor and suffering deprived overnight of the traditional sources of refuge, food and medical care that had up until then provided the bedrock of the nation's social care system in towns and cities throughout the land.

Top broadcaster and cleric Rev Richard Coles, who is on the board of Wellingborough Homes, a housing association in Northamptonshire where he is a vicar, was among those who condemned the proposals.

He said: "So a housing association, like the one on whose board I sit, goes to the market, raises finance, does deals with contractors and builds urgently needed units for people to live in at social rents and then the government forces us to sell them off at a 35 per cent discount. That's right to buy? Sounds like right to steal to me."

This attack was followed by an attack on Coles himself in The Daily Mail, where his memoir Fathomless Riches, published months ago, was then mined for sordid facts about his time in the pop band The Communards, including references to drugs and gay sex. The Mail headline was: Seedy past of Radio 4 vicar who labelled scheme "right to steal".

Coles' own response was unrepentant. He tweeted: "Thanks Daily Mail for promoting the soon-to-be-released paperback of my memoir." And then he wrote on Facebook: "Here's one of the dilemmas that so often characterises our attempts to live good lives amid competing claims and demands: I picked up a copy of the Daily Mail for my dad in hospital despite it printing a nasty story about me. I call that an act of supererogation and a half." The Latin term means paying beyond what is due.