IT is not entirely clear when former prime ministers transform into statesmen (or stateswomen for that matter) elevating their concerns beyond the party political and inhabiting a space where their interventions related to wider concerns beyond Government.

Tony Blair became an envoy to the Middle East, set up a faith foundation and began to focus on geo-politics.

Gordon Brown has sought to highlight issues concerning global vaccination and war crimes tribunals.

David Cameron has yet to find his oeuvre but, as a sitting MP, Theresa May continues to contribute to bring insight into the issues of the day.

Earlier this week, Sir John Major made a speech opening the National Cathedrals Conference which is being held in Newcastle under the title “Different Country, Different Church” where he spoke of the shared challenges that faced both the church and the country – such as the pace of societal change – and how best to respond.

As part of his reflection on the alternatives on offer to those in society who prize celebrity, wealth and fame more than values, Sir John said: “In our world of change, the Church offers stability. Many changes are beneficial – but not all of them. Sometimes change leaves values behind.

“And, in the bustle of change, where stands happiness? What value is put on peace of mind? Should we stand by silently when vile opinion is lauded; when truth is disposable: when authority is mocked; when tradition is trashed; when bad men hold sway in many countries? I think not.

“It may be unfashionable to speak of values, but it should not be. They should never be cast aside.”

In warming to the theme of values and their wider application to society, Sir John defended the right of the church to speak into political situations before venturing back into the arena of Government policy, adding his voice to that of Theresa May on the Government’s recent immigration proposals.

He said: “In England, in 1763, Lord Chancellor Henley said: ‘If a man steps foot in England, he is a free man.’

“Today, under the pressure of numbers, if that man is a refugee in a rubber boat he receives a chilly welcome, and the threat of deportation to Rwanda. I cannot believe that is the right way forward: such a policy is not a moral advance.

“However you look at this policy – it is wrong to forcibly transport people to a far-away land, when all that most are seeking is a better life.”

A similar argument could be heard outside a different cathedral in North East two days earlier, when 200 people gathered on Palace Green in Durham to call for the closure of the

Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre near Hassockfield where women are detained in conditions described by some of those attending as callous and cruel.

When statesmen and protestors come together in common voice it’s worth pausing to listen and to hear what they say. Their voices join with those of the church – which, as Sir John also noted, “is more than a place of worship. It is where we may seek the comfort of community; of companionship; of solace – and of sanctuary”.

  • The Reverend Arun Arora is the vicar of St Nicholas’ Church in Durham Market Place