This week the Church of England unveiled proposals for a shake-up of its national governance structure in what critics have called “a coup by Archbishops to take control of everything”.
I won’t bore you with the details (you can read the full report here, headed-up by the anti-Brexit Bishop Nick Baines) but what stood out to me was the barely concealed aim of replacing the organic accountability of democracy with a sterile rule by a woke technocracy. One purpose of this is, inevitably, to increase ‘diversity’, but it’s not hard to see that the real agenda is to impose a woke uniformity of political ideology on a church already infamous for being led by a clerisy out of touch with ordinary churchgoers and the country as a whole.
At the heart of the takeover is the all-powerful Nominations Committee, which is tasked with establishing “a community of diverse, appropriately skilled and appropriately knowledgeable people from which panels would be convened to oversee appointments and ensure eligibility for election”. Anglican blogger Archbishop Cranmer puts his finger on the problem here.
Note “appropriately skilled”, “relevant knowledge”, “suitable to stand”, “talent pipeline”, and “appropriate.. behaviours”. It will fall to the Nominations Committee to ‘sift’ all applicants to all Church of England boards, committees and governing bodies. It will be for them to discern and define what is ‘appropriate’ and ‘relevant’, who is ‘suitable’ and has ‘talent’, and whether or not they manifest appropriate ‘behaviours’.
Has it not occurred to the Review Group that this Nominations Committee will have the power to create a church in its own image, and that the Chair of the Nominations Committee will have more executive power than the Archbishop of Canterbury? Or perhaps that’s the idea. It isn’t clear, however, which committee will ‘sift’ nominations to the Nominations Committee, but you can be sure that the process will be the antithesis of transparency and accountability.
He sees parallels with the notorious Cameroonian ‘A-list’ for Tory candidates:
Clause 200 is designed to be the safety valve, the check or balance on the abuse of power, but it is a bit of verbal chicanery. In what sense is pre-election ‘rigorous sifting’ not a negation of of [sic] democracy? If candidates may not emerge organically and appeal to their electorates directly, but instead may be weeded out by the Anglican Conclave compliance committee to ensure theological conformity and gender/ethnicity diversity, then democracy is indeed removed. The proposal apes the process adopted by the Conservative Party under David Cameron and his ‘A-list‘ for candidates, which caused such outrage among Party members with its social engineering of removal of democracy that it was eventually abolished – but not really: it is still very much in place to ensure the ‘right’ candidates are nominated to the ‘right’ seats, and are seen to be. But the Conservative Party’s Candidates Committee doesn’t operate with transparency and accountability. If it did, it would be subject to democracy, and that would hinder the political objective.
The Church of England’s ‘sifting’ people for the ‘talent pipeline’ is also a mechanism for seeming: to ensure the ‘right’ women and ethnic minorities are appointed to the ‘right’ boards, committees and governing bodies of the Church of England, in order that they might in turn select the ‘right’ candidates from the list ‘sifted’ by the Nominations Committee, who, you can be sure, will sift some more than others.
The report is clear that it regards democracy as an inadequate mechanism for ensuring sufficiently diverse governance.
In the Church of England, a significant number of appointments to governance bodies are made through the electoral process. In our view, this does not deliver what the Church needs from its governing bodies. …
The Church bodies which either elect or nominate people onto the Church of England’s governance bodies are themselves not very diverse bodies, meaning that the people they elect or nominate onto governance bodies tend not to supply the diversity which is one of the requirements of the Charity Commission’s Seven Principles of Governance.
Ah, so it’s all about complying with the requirements of the Charity Commission’s Seven Principles of Governance? What exactly do these require of the Church of England?
Well, nothing at all as it happens, as the code does not ‘require’ anything but commends certain principles and practices. It also leaves entirely to the discretion of the charity itself how it defines and achieves ‘diversity‘:
The board assesses its own understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion. It considers how this happens in the charity and identifies any gaps in understanding which could be filled by discussion, learning, research or information.
The report’s implication that the elected General Synod is deficient in respect of the Charity Commission’s ‘requirements’ for diversity and therefore needs to be made less democratic, the better to comply, is thus a wholly misleading insinuation intended, we must suppose, to convince readers that they have no choice but to accept this reform.
Likewise, there is an appeal to the U.K. Corporate Governance Code, which the report quotes to show how the elected Synod is deficient in this regard:
Appointments to the board should be subject to a formal, rigorous and transparent procedure, and an effective succession plan should be maintained for board and senior management.
The Corporate Governance Code is published by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) and applies only to companies “with a Premium Listing of equity shares in the UK”. The Church of England is not a publicly listed company and does not have shareholders and thus the code does not apply to it. In addition, the code is not obligatory and makes clear that deviations, clearly explained to shareholders, aren’t necessarily indicative of poor governance: “There may be many good reasons why a company may choose not to comply and an explanation does not imply poor governance.” This too is therefore a misleading effort on the part of the report authors to make it appear that the proposed reform is a statutory requirement when it is no such thing.
Hopefully the General Synod will reject this report and its attempt to replace lively church democracy with a dull woke conformity. If it does not and instead gives it the green light, it’s hard to see how the Church of England will avoid accelerating faster down the right-on rabbit hole it has lately made its home – Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby rarely misses an opportunity to accuse his church of being “deeply institutionally racist” – which so jars with many of the people who would be its natural supporters. Wokery hasn’t revived the fortunes of any church to date and it seems unlikely to start with the C of E.
These problems of woke takeovers aren’t limited to the C of E of course. The church’s appeal to the FRC Code is telling, as this appears to be the font of much corporate wokery in the U.K. The code has been evolving quickly in recent years, with contentious ‘social justice’ elements being hardened even between the 2016 and 2018 editions.
The 2016 version, for instance, still made an effort to couch diversity in terms of improving the quality of deliberation: “One of the ways in which constructive debate can be encouraged is through having sufficient diversity on the board.”
Diversity here was just a ‘supporting principle’, and companies were only asked to have ‘due regard’ to its benefits: “The search for board candidates should be conducted, and appointments made, on merit, against objective criteria and with due regard for the benefits of diversity on the board, including gender.”
Come 2018, and it is now a central principle that diversity “should” be actively promoted in appointments: “Both appointments and succession plans should be based on merit and objective criteria and, within this context, should promote diversity of gender, social and ethnic backgrounds, cognitive and personal strengths.”
The annual report “should” also “describe the work of the nomination committee” (is this where the C of E got the idea from?) in “developing a diverse pipeline” and in its “progress on achieving the objectives” of its diversity and inclusion policy.
What’s more, it seems this is still not woke enough for the apparatchiks at the FRC. In July 2021 the FRC published research claiming to show that “diverse boards lead to better corporate culture and performance” and arguing that companies need to go even further in promoting ‘diversity’:
• Regulators and companies must focus on collecting more data on the types of diversity, board dynamics and social inclusion
• The Nomination Committee itself should be diverse and have a clear mandate to work with search firms that access talent from wide and diverse pools.
• The greater representation of women in the boardroom is reshaping culture and dynamics and benefiting businesses from a social justice as well as a performance perspective
The idea that ‘diversity’ improves performance and profit has been taken apart by Alex Edmans in the Telegraph, who argues that although he is himself ethnic minority and a supporter of diversity, the fact is the business case for diversity is wholly lacking in good quality evidence.
A much heralded McKinsey report, entitled Diversity Wins, argued that “the business case for gender and ethnic diversity in top teams is stronger than ever”.
Last month, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) released a study, which concluded that “gender-diverse boards are more effective than those without women”. The evidence is supposedly so compelling that one chairman claimed in the study that “there have been enough reports … statistics and … evidence-based research to stop talking about it and get on with it”.
Another declared that “I don’t want to see any men. I don’t care if they’re Jesus Christ. I don’t want to see them.” …
But the business case for diversity is far weaker than commonly claimed. The McKinsey study has been shown to be irreplicable even with their chosen performance measure (EBIT) and preferred methodology. Moreover, there is no link between diversity and other performance measures – gross margin, return on assets, return on equity, sales growth, or total shareholder return – or when using more established methodologies.
The study commissioned by the FRC runs 90 regressions investigating the link between diversity and profitability. Eighty-eight find no relationship, and two find a weak relationship that fails the standard threshold for statistical significance. Yet many articles have been written based on the study’s headline claim, without looking at its actual results.
Corporate wokery, spearheaded by the patronising, divisive and discriminatory drive for ill-defined ‘diversity’ is increasingly out of control, whether in the corporate world or the wannabe corporate world of the C of E. If we had elected a Labour government for the past decade that might be understandable. That this is happening on the Conservatives’ watch raises important questions about who governs Britain and how seriously the Conservative party takes its commitment to conservative values.
The FRC is slated to be replaced, when the Government gets round to it. This is a prime opportunity to steer corporate governance away from divisive woke ideology and towards something more sensible and benign.