The Archbishop of Canterbury warns today that Britain must learn the lessons of Nazi Germany in dealing with the effects of the recession
Dr Rowan Williams risks causing a new controversy by inviting a comparison between Gordon Brown's response to the economic downturn and the Third Reich. In an article for The Daily Telegraph, he claims Germany in the 1930s pursued a "principle" that worked consistently but only on the basis that "quite a lot of people that you might have thought mattered as human beings actually didn't".
Dr Williams, the most senior cleric in the Church of England, then appears to draw a parallel between the Nazis and the UK Government's policies for tackling the downturn, which he says fails to take account of the "particular human costs" to the most vulnerable in society.
"What about the unique concerns and crises of the pensioner whose savings have disappeared, the Woolworth's employee, the hopeful young executive, let alone the helpless producer of goods in some Third-world environment where prices are determined thousands of miles away?" he asks.
In an apparent reference to the Prime Minister, who has claimed to be guided by a moral compass, the Archbishop also observes "without these anxieties about the specific costs, we've lost the essential moral compass". It follows a disagreement with the Prime Minister last week in which the Archbishop likened Government policy on spending to "an addict returning to a drug". This prompted Mr Brown to allude to the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan by claiming he could not "walk by on the other side" as people suffered.
The Prime Minister has pledged to spend his way out of the economic downturn, increasing public borrowing to a record £200m a day. The Government has pledged £500billion of taxpayers' money to bail out the banking system, and cut VAT by 2.5 per cent to get consumers spending again. But unemployment is predicted to top 2 million by the New Year as high street names such as Woolworths and MFI go under. Thousands have fallen into negative equity as the property market has fallen by 15 per cent. Millions of prudent savers are also suffering as interest rates have been cut to 2 per cent.
Dr Williams' comments may be perceived as a further attack on Mr Brown's efforts to boost the economy, and risk damaging the relationship between Lambeth Palace and Downing Street. It threatens a return to the 1980s, when the Conservative Government came under fierce attack from the Church over its social policies which were said to exclude the poor deliberately.
This summer, the Archbishop invited the Prime Minister to speak at a rally by Anglian bishops and hailed his commitment to ending world poverty. But after the collapse of banks around the world in September, Dr Williams called for governments to increase regulation of the financial sector and claimed Karl Marx had been right in his analysis of the dangers of capitalism.
Last week, the Archbishop admitted it would not be "the end of the world" if the Church's links with the state were severed, as it would no longer have to rely on ministers' approval for changes to canon law. He also claimed he did not take account of MPs' opinions before making public pronouncements, saying: "While there might be many reasons for watching what I say, being a nuisance to the people across the river [Thames] is not a big consideration."
He then denounced Mr Brown's plans to increase debt, saying: "I worry about that because it seems a little bit like the addict returning to the drug. When the Bible uses the word 'repentance', it doesn't just mean beating your breast, it means getting a new perspective, and that is perhaps what we are shrinking away from."
In response, the Prime Minister defended his "fiscal stimulus" policies by alluding to the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. Mr Brown said: "I think the Archbishop would also agree with me that every time someone becomes unemployed or loses their home or a small business fails it is our duty to act and we should not walk by on the other side when people are facing problems."
However, Dr Williams has continued his criticisms of current economic policy in this newspaper. In his article he warns of the dangers of "unconditional loyalty to a system" that turned into a "nightmare" in Germany under Hitler, in which only certain groups and ideas were valued, while others were deemed dispensable and suffering was ignored.
He cites the lectures given by Karl Barth, a theologian who was driven into exile by Hitler, who had claimed that one of the benefits of Christianity is that believers are able to live without the "principles" that drive politics.
The Archbishop concedes some of the "principles" now being put forward are not as destructive as the 20th century ideologies of Fascism or Communism. But he goes on to suggest that some "principled" defences of the economy "block out actual human faces and stories", and defends the right of religious leaders to raise questions about the social implications of financial plans.
Dr Williams concludes that the message of the Christmas story is one of unconditional love, and the idea that every human life must be valued.
Meanwhile, a member of his staff has been sacked for making an offensive comment about a senior bishop in an official document that was sent to 10 Downing Street as well as other clergy. The obscene word was written next to the name of the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, in a confidential job application sent from Lambeth Palace.