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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 2 January, 2003, 08:49 GMT
Blunkett challenges archbishop
Dr Rowan Williams
Dr Williams: Questioned emphasis on consumer
Home Secretary David Blunkett has accused the new Archbishop of Canterbury of being "misleading and selective" in his criticism of the government.

Dr Rowan Williams used his first speech since taking up his post to say modern politics was about satisfying consumer demand and moral issues were ignored.

David Blunkett
Dr Blunkett defends the government's stance
Instead, Mr Blunkett said the new head of the Anglican Church had got "important things wrong" in his claim the nation state had been replaced by a "market state".

His comments were the first open criticism by a Cabinet minister of Dr Williams since he took up his post last month.

The new archbishop has spoken out on a range of key issues since taking up his post, including urging the government in his Christmas message to pull back from the brink of war.

Voter demands

In an article for The Spectator, the home secretary called Dr Williams a "fellow hairy lefty" and praised his "profound and authoritative voice".

But he argued much of his analysis in his high profile Dimbleby lecture last month about politics was a "travesty".

Mr Blunkett said the government responded to legitimate demands from voters, such as parental choice about their children's education or wanting a second opinion in the NHS.

"This is not consumerism in a vacuum, but the provision of services that would otherwise have to be purchased within the market economy", he wrote.

"Providing such services while helping local communities rebuild themselves is the challenge of the 21st century."

Parental choice

Dr Williams last month told an audience of church leaders, politicians and other opinion formers that church leaders instead of governments would have to form a moral basis for society.

On education, he criticised the focus on exam results and parental choice which reflected the focus on consumerism.

But Mr Blunkett said it was government's willingness to respond to parents' demand for more accountability and higher standards which allowed children to improve their chances in life.

In areas like south Wales, where Dr Williams served, and Sheffield, which Mr Blunkett represents, children had been so badly let down that as many as 80% of 13-year-olds could not read properly, he said.

Mr Blunkett continued: "Communities can grow only if education empowers those within them."


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