An explanation of CNC and its apparent deadlock
On (not) choosing a new Archbishop
by Andrew Goddard
It would seem that the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) has failed to conclude its deliberations this week. Press reports that this is the case appear to be confirmed by the official statement that “the work of the Commission continues”.
Why is the CNC undecided and what can break the deadlock? To try to answer this it is necessary to understand matters of both composition and process within the CNC. These are set out in General Synod Standing Orders (para 122).
There are 16 full voting members of the Commission whereas usually there are only 14. This is because the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury introduces both a lay Chair chosen by the Prime Minister (Lord Luce) and a Primate of the Communion (Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales). In addition there are six members elected by Canterbury diocese and two bishops elected by the House of Bishops (to replace the two Presidents, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York). All 10 of these members have little or no experience of CNC processes. Then there are the 6 permanent members – 3 lay and 3 clergy – elected by General Synod most of whom have several years’ service and much experience in selecting bishops. One complicating factor is therefore that usually there are 8 permanent and experienced members and 6 new members (from the vacant diocese) but this time there are only 6 permanent members and 10 new members and neither Archbishop is present.
It is fairly certain that over the last few days the CNC began to vote on a shortlist of candidates arrived at in their previous two meetings. The vote takes place by successive secret ballots with the bottom candidate being eliminated. Crucially, however, a candidate needs to get 2/3 of the vote to be able to be nominated. As a result, it is quite possible to reduce the list to two candidates and face an impasse. A simple majority (9-7 in this case) is not sufficient. A candidate to be agreed and forwarded to the Prime Minister requires 2/3 of the members to vote for them. Normally that means they need 10 votes but with 16 voting members it means they need the support of 11 candidates. In other words, if 6 members are unwilling to vote for a candidate, members will keep voting until a candidate has 11 votes. If that does not happen then deadlock has been reached and the CNC composition means there are fewer experienced mediators who have worked through such difficult situations in the past and may recognise the need to shift their vote to assist the process.
This 2/3 requirement means that candidates with strong support but also determined opposition may be unable to reach the requisite number of votes. That scenario is quite possible in relation to some of the names likely being considered given the composition of the CNC. With six candidates from the diocese of Canterbury, if they are united or almost united in their opposition to a particular candidate then they may be able to block him.
The further complication is that if this hurdle is overcome then there is another one still to be faced because the CNC is required to submit two names to the Prime Minister (even though he now will simply forward the first name). This means that voting starts again with the original shortlist (minus the elected candidate) in order to get a second name. This nomination also needs the support of 2/3 of voting members.
In summary, to reach a decision there must be two candidates able to secure the support of 11 or more members. Six members determined to block a particular candidate favoured by the other 10 can therefore bring the whole process to a halt.
Finally, rather than assuming that the first candidate to get 2/3 is the first choice of the CNC there is yet another secret ballot to decide which of the two names will be placed first. Given the first candidate is now automatically accepted by the Prime Minister, the vote here is even more significant than it used to be. There should, however, not be a problem reaching this decision as it only requires a majority (as both candidates have secured 2/3 already) and if the vote is a tie (8-8) then “when the Commission is considering a vacancy in the Archbishopric of Canterbury or in the Archbishopric of York, the vote of the person presiding shall not be counted”.
It is likely that a lot of voting has taken place over the last two days but the CNC appears not to have got over all 3 hurdles. It may still have no candidate able to secure the vote of 11 members or it may have one but not two. An added complication in voting may be the belief that certain candidates with strong support (such as Graham James) have signalled they do not want the job, thus making it harder for them to get the necessary 11 supporters.
The only way forward when an impasse is reached is for members to take time away to pray. They are sworn to secrecy so they cannot take advice outside the CNC and if they do it is likely to leak. They must then reconvene, discuss where they are and keep praying and voting. The need in Standing Orders for a secret ballot suggests there is no way voting can take place electronically. The CNC is the only body authorised to submit names to the Prime Minister and there is, procedurally, no way of changing the existing rules so it may take a long time and could even be determined by one member being unable to attend a future meeting.
In the midst of much uncertainty what is clear is that the members of CNC (listed below), and the candidates they are voting on, are very much in need of the church’s prayers.
Prayer for CNC issued 26th September 2012
you have given your Holy Spirit to the Church
to lead us into all truth:
bless with the Spirit's grace and presence
the members of the Crown Nominations Commission.
Keep them steadfast in faith and united in love,
that they may seek your will, manifest your glory
and prepare the way of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
Members of CNC
The Rt Hon the Lord Luce
The Primate of The Church in Wales, the Most Revd Dr Barry Morgan
House of Bishops
The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Michael Perham (
The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome
Canterbury Diocese’s Vacancy-in-See Committee representatives
The Right Reverend Trevor Willmott
The Revd Canon Clare Edwards
The Revd Canon Mark Roberts
Mr Raymond Harris
Mrs Caroline Spencer
Mr David Kemp
General Synod representatives
Mr Aiden Hargreaves-Smith - London
Professor Glynn Harrison - Bristol
Mrs Mary Johnston - London
The Very Revd Andrew Nunn – Southwark
The Revd Canon Peter Spiers – Liverpool
The Revd Canon Glyn Webster – York