Perhaps it’s my imagination, but every time the Rt Rev James Jones, former Bishop of Liverpool, pops up on Thought for the Day I hear an undertone of disappointed ambition. The same goes for Lord Harries, ex-Bishop of Oxford and, like Jones, once spoken of as a future Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s as if they’re saying: look how much poetry and gravitas I can pack into three minutes! I’d have been jolly good at Lambeth…
Bishop Jones’s prose this morning, when he reflected on the murder of 298 people by allies of Vladimir Putin, was as purple as his episcopal robes: ‘black bodybags lining the fields of sunflowers, the refrigerated train of five grey carriages’. It would be wrong to suggest that Jones’s sympathy for the relatives of the victims of air crashes was confected. But, as usual, he placed himself at the centre of the narrative, talking about his own dealings with the bereaved.
This is forgiveable. Less so was his failure to condemn the rebels who blew MH17 out of the sky, or the ex-KGB agent who reportedly gave them their BUK missile launcher. It is thanks to Russia that those bodies were rotting in the fields yesterday as Putin ostentatiously took himself off to church, where he was greeted by fawning Orthodox prelates.
Jones would say only this: ‘the relatives long to pay their respects, frustrated by the posturing of national and international politics’. Those words made me want to throw up. The bereaved are not frustrated by the justified fury of politicians who identify Putin as the man responsible for this atrocity. These leaders are not ‘posturing’. And nor is Putin, who appears to be telling wicked lies.
Why did James Jones not make this point? Not enough time? Nonsense: he found space for an exquisitely polished show-off quotation from Shakespeare. For as long as I can remember, Thought for the Day has required its clergy to combine sanctimonious parables with moral equivocation. Those who go off-message are dropped. This morning the former Bishop of Liverpool followed his brief to the letter.