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It’s a great pity that the Labour Party has forgotten its past

All political parties have forgotten their roots; perhaps that is why politics is so irrelevant

By on Thursday, 26 April 2012

There is an election on, have you noticed? Outside London, it is for local government. I met my candidate the other day in the street and we had a little talk, which was instructive on many fronts. Here are some of them.

Firstly, I had no idea about any of the candidates at all, or who was standing, so it was nice to find out one of the names on the ballot paper in advance. Yes, really: I have not seen a single poster for any party or candidate anywhere near where I live.

Secondly, the candidate told me that one of the three councillors in the ward, namely herself, was up for renewal, and that this was for the borough, not the county. I find all this pretty confusing – why does local government have so many tiers, and why do we have these odd one third at a time elections? Couldn’t the whole thing be made simpler?

Thirdly, the candidate told me she was a Conservative, but she immediately stressed that this was a local election and that this has nothing to do with “the Government” – from which I deduce that she fears losing her election on a wave of anti-Government feeling. No doubt she works hard, and feels that it is most unfair that she could lose her seat thanks to George, Dave and the rest of them.

(Incidentally, I saw a yellow poster for a presumably Lib Dem candidate in Cambridge the other day that made no mention whatever that he was a Lib Dem: so this local feeling afflicts both Coalition parties, it seems.)

I spoke to the candidate about my local concerns – which are mainly to do with litter and pollution; and I also told her that as a Catholic I thought it my duty to vote – and so it is. We all need to take part, and local elections, though mundane, are important. I said I would remind everyone I knew to vote on Thursday. It is generally thought that religious people are more likely to vote than non-religious people. This makes sense to me; I wonder how anti-Christians feel about that?

Funnily enough, a great friend of mine, who would I am sure like to remain anonymous, is standing for election in a borough in South Wales. He is totally aligned with the international workers’ movement and is of course standing as a Labour candidate, though he has no truck with anything connected to New Labour at all. He is, of course, a devout Catholic. I say, of course, because once upon a time the Labour party was full of devout Catholics (in certain places, such as parts of Scotland, it still is).

Moreover, there were many leading lights in Labour who were famous for their piety. One such was Bob Mellish ; and in our own day there is Michael Martin  But these Labour figures seem to belong to the past now, which is a pity. The people who know no history have no future, as someone once observed. It is a great pity that the Labour Party is seemingly forgetting its past, just like the Conservatives, who do not seem very conservative at all.

If someone like Bob Mellish were up for election today, he would certainly have my vote!

  • David Lindsay

    If “there is
    no such thing as society” (and yes, Margaret Thatcher really did say that),
    then there can be no such thing as the society that is the family, or the
    society that is the nation. There cannot be a “free” market generally but not
    in drugs, prostitution or pornography. There cannot be unrestricted global
    movement of goods, services or capital but not of labour. American domination
    is no more acceptable that European federalism. The economic decadence of the
    1980s is no more acceptable that the social decadence of the 1960s.


    The principle
    of the planned economy came down to the Attlee Government, via the Liberal
    Keynes and via Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from an ultraconservative Catholic,
    Colbert. The principle of the Welfare State came down to the Attlee Government,
    via the Liberals Lloyd George and Beveridge, and via the Conservative
    Governments of the Inter-War years, from an ultraconservative Protestant,


    Those who
    looked to the union-busting criminality of pirate radio, which was funded by
    the same Oliver Smedley who went on to fund the proto-Thatcherite Institute of
    Economic Affairs, were enfranchised in time for the 1970 General Election, gave
    victory to what they thought were the Selsdon Tories, and went on to support
    first the economic and then the constitutional entrenchment of their dissolute
    moral and social attitudes by Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.


    Labour MPs
    defended Catholic schools, and thus all church-based state schools, over
    several successive decades. National leaders of the Social Democrats supported
    Christian religious instruction in the schools of Berlin. The House of Lords
    inflicted a cross-party defeat on Thatcher’s attempt to end such instruction
    here. Early Labour activists resisted schemes to abort, contracept and
    sterilise the working class out of existence. Upper and upper-middle-class
    people joined the early Labour Party precisely because their backgrounds and
    involvement in the Church of England made them familiar with the importance of
    State action against social evils, and they used their new party as a platform
    from which to defend Establishment against Liberal assaults.


    Many Social
    Catholics in post-War Italy promoted Keynesianism and felt a strong affinity
    with the domestic policies of the Attlee Government, but they were also
    sceptical about NATO. Jakob Kaiser’s vision was of a German Christian Democracy
    that looked to British Labour for its inspiration in giving effect to Catholic
    Social Teaching, and which gave such effect by emphasising co-operatives, the
    public ownership of key industries, extensive social insurance, and the works
    councils later suggested in the SDP’s founding Limehouse Declaration and
    advocated by David Owen, while also seeking a United Germany as a bridge
    between East and West, allied neither to NATO nor to the Soviet Bloc. The witness
    of Bob Santamaria in Australia is also of crucial historical importance.


    Manning led the 1889 London dockers’ march serenaded by the Salvation Army
    band, and he played a pivotal role in settling that strike. When the Attlee
    Government legislated to regulate marriage, it simply presupposed that marriage
    could only ever be the union of one man and one woman. Catholic and other
    Labour MPs, including John Smith, fought tooth and nail against abortion and
    easier divorce, not least including both Thatcher’s introduction of abortion up
    to birth and Major’s introduction of divorce legally easier than release from a
    car hire contract, as well as Major’s abolition of adultery and desertion as
    faults in divorce cases, a recognition whereby the community at large declared
    its disapproval of those actions even though they were not criminal offences.
    Methodist and other Labour MPs, including John Smith, fought tooth and nail
    against deregulated drinking and gambling. John Smith was also among those who
    successfully organised, especially through the USDAW shop workers’ union,
    against Thatcher’s and Major’s attempts to destroy the special character of
    Sunday and of Christmas Day, delivering the only Commons defeat of Thatcher’s


    took a strong stand against drugs while he was Home Secretary. Mary Whitehouse
    voted Labour from time to time, and Lord Longford’s was a lifelong Labour
    allegiance. The Parliamentary Labour Party voted unanimously against the
    Finance Bill that abolished the recognition of marriage, as such, in the
    taxation system. The trade unions fought numerous battles to secure paternal
    authority in families and communities by securing its economic base in
    high-waged, high-skilled, high-status male employment. Trade union banners
    frequently depicted Biblical scenes and characters, as well as historic
    landmarks geographical and chronological, including the fallen of two World
    Wars. The name of Margaret Thatcher is abominated in pro-life and pro-family
    circles, matched only by the abomination of the name of Tony Blair.


    I have been
    told that this affinity with the glory days of Continental Christian Democracy,
    which itself felt such an affinity with the glory days of British Labour, is
    incompatible with “the Protestant Anglophone tradition”. But, especially in
    Germany and in Switzerland, Christian Democracy has both deep roots in
    Protestant as well as Catholic thought, and huge electoral support among
    Protestants as well as among Catholics. And looking at those English-speaking
    countries (a small minority of the total) presumably meant by my interlocutors,
    I can see only three explicitly Protestant political movements of any note. One
    is in Northern Ireland, and the other two are in the United States, where one
    of them is white and the other is black. None of them is socially liberal, to
    say the least. All three are in favour of public spending generous to the point
    of lavishness, provided that it is on their own respective constituencies; if
    the price of this is the same provision for certain others, who are very often
    Catholics, then that price is paid, if not gladly, then at least in full. All
    three simply presuppose the capacity of the several layers of government to do
    both economically social democratic and socially conservative things,
    identifying that as axiomatically the whole point of governmental institutions.


    It was ever
    thus. Those very Protestant Tories, Shaftesbury and Wilberforce, used the full
    force of the State to stamp out abuses of the poor at home and slavery abroad,
    both of which are now well on the way back in this secularised age. Victorian
    Nonconformists used the Liberal Party to fight against opium dens and the
    compelling of people to work seven-day weeks, both of which have now returned
    in full. Temperance Methodists built the Labour Party in order to counteract
    brutal capitalism precisely so as to prevent a Marxist revolution, whereas the
    coherence of the former with the cultural aspects of the latter now reigns
    supreme. But that economic and social libertinism is not the Protestant
    Anglophone tradition, and it ought not to present itself as such.


    The absence of any significant Marxist influence in this country has been
    due to the universal and comprehensive Welfare State, and the strong statutory
    protection of workers and consumers, the former paid for by progressive
    taxation, and all underwritten by full employment. These are very largely the
    fruits of Catholic Social Teaching. Such fruits have been of disproportionate
    benefit to ethnically Gaelic-Irish Catholics throughout the United Kingdom.
    Even in the 1940s, Sinn Féin worried that they were eroding its support. She
    who led the assault on these things remains a Unionist hate figure. The Civil
    Rights Movement was explicitly for equal British citizenship. Even the old
    Nationalist Party, never mind Sinn Féin, was permitted no part in it. And it
    was classically British Labour in identifying education, healthcare, decent
    homes and proper wages as the rights of citizens, who are demeaned precisely as
    citizens when they are denied those rights. The fruits of Catholic Social
    Teaching, indeed.


    Yet imagine how much more Catholic and more concerned with rural issues
    British social democracy would have been if, as it continued to develop after
    the First World War, it had continued to include the whole of Ireland. If most
    of Ireland had not left the United Kingdom in 1922, then all of Ireland would
    have received the National Health Service a generation later, and Irish votes
    at Westminster would have been crucial to sparing these Islands, as a whole,
    the abortion and divorce free-for-alls a generation after that.

  • Benedict Carter

    “I also told her that as a Catholic I thought it my duty to vote – and so it is”.

    I find that an amazing statement. We have a positive duty NOT to vote for any candidate who holds views on key issues inimical to the Catholic religion. Abortion and homosexual marriage are the key issues of the moment, but there are others. 

    If that means that Catholics can vote for no-one, then so be it. 

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Hang on a sec….. if that were the case, that all candidates were unacceptable, one would still be duty bound to abstain, that is, to go to the polling station and consign either a spoiled ballot paper or a blank one.
    Sitting at home is not an option.

  • Benedict Carter

    I accept that, Father. Which is why I am a supporter of an option on the ballot paper saying “None of the Above”.

  • Morys Ireland

    I was quite inspired by Jean-Luc Melanchon’s campaign in the French elections, but despite the hype he only polled 11%. In a way, I feel it’s a chance missed for Labour – but on the other hand a ‘lurch to the left’ would probably do about as well electorally as M. Melanchon.

    How far ‘to the centre’ (or even the right) can you move in order to attract voters before you find you’ve sold yourselves out? A difficult question in a very difficult economic and political environment.

  • JByrne24

    ‘ “…..there is no such thing as society…” (and yes, Margaret Thatcher really did say that)….’
    Mrs Thatcher said a whole string of words before those quoted words and a whole string of words afterwards. These additional words are essential to gain any understanding of what she was really saying.

    Mr Tony, of course, was a convert to Catholicism. 

    We too have noted Fr. Lucie-Smith’s experience of the lack of party activity. Perhaps they are keeping their powder dry, or maybe it indicates a lack of funds as people in general lose interest in politics.

  • Isaac

    “If that were the case, that all candidates were unacceptable, one would still be duty bound to abstain, that is, to go to the polling station and consign either a spoiled ballot paper or a blank one.”


    “Sitting at home is not an option.”

    Why not?

    (These are genuine questions; I would like to know the  reasoning that has lead to these conclusions.)

  • Benedict Carter

    Modern Catholicism has replaced God with politics, Isaac. They think we cannot exercise our religion without being involved in politics. That is the crux of it.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    A look at any of the social encyclicals of the Blessed John Paul II will provide an answer. Forgive me if I do not provide you with a precis of his approach. But think along these lines – is not caring about the political process in keeping with love of your neighbour?

  • Patrickhowes

    JP ll was so busy writing encyclicals that poor Cardinal Ratzinger was drowning under the abuse cases,ignoring his advise to act against the awful ands evil Fr Maciel amongst others.If we want to preach about social justice,then the departure point has to been in our won homes and the Vatican has to get their house in order first!It is by example we must lead.Socialism is not a natuarl bedfellow of Catholic social thinking.In order to provdie we must generate and not simply spend!Every socialist government more or less leaves countries bankrupt.Just to indulge their policies which then generations of us have to pay off!Is that morally correct?Jesus Christ never expected us to do nothing.He taught us and it is biblical that we must all use what we have in our hands.The good Father uses his pen and his wit.Do the proceeds of these go to charities in the Thirld World?You will recall that with the miracle of the five loaves…it was late and the apostles came to Christ and said “Master we must feed these people.Christ retorted “Go feed them yourselves”.They returned with five loaves and three fishes”.It was Christ´s divinity that then truned these into many more and fed the thousands.The lesson in this miracle is remarkable.If we endeavour to be constructive and generate things by ourselves and then seek God´s Grace,then things will multiply.Hopefully then we too can help others with what God gives us.This is the essence of Christian political thinking “AMDG,Do everything the best you can and God will help you flourish.We are morally bound to be charitbale to others,in other words nothing is our own and we should then pass on God´s grace and favour to others.It is this attitude that creates a society

  • Benedict Carter

    In all circumstances and at all times? And if “caring about the political process” means choosing between three or four baby-killers?

    No, no, no. Caring about saving one’s soul comes first and it comes last.

  • Anon

    political parties have low membership in local electoral wards; it is certainly possible (as a party member) to go along to a meeting, raise issues and have them minuted. If you are determined, points for discussion can be included as items for the agenda. 

  • LocutusOP

    You’re partly right, but also partly wrong.

    We have a duty to save souls by changing the world – that is the legacy passed onto us by our martyrs. Implied in that is  getting involved in politics where this is necessary, but it should never mean compromising on absolutes. In many cases the Catholic church has been pushed into politics, not willingly participated.

    I would not go as far as to call it a duty though, unless knowledgeable abstention  can also be descriped as participation. I certainly regard it a duty to participate in society, but participating in political elections is something totally different. Only if it is the only way to change things can it be considered a duty – the highest duty of which would be voting for candidates who have a positive view of life and whose policies are in accordance with the moral law.

    You are, however, right that the church has compromised far too often with far too many people on the causes of ‘social justice’ which – as it is defined today – is very far from (and often opposed to) the church’s sole justification for existence, namely, the salvation of souls.

  • Benedict Carter

    Why have we never had a Catholic Party in Britain? Germany had one, many other countries too.

  • Alan

    My principle is always to vote, and to vote for the most acceptable (or least unacceptable) candidate.  It is inevitable that we will not agree on every single issue we regard as important.  If there is absolutely nobody who is remotely acceptable, why not consider standing ourselves, or persuading somebody else to?  We should always be prepared to vote against our favoured party if there is a particularly acceptable candidate of another party (for example, I am anti-Tory but would have considered voting for Ann Widdecombe).  If we choose not to vote at all, we have no right to complain afterwards.

  • Patrick_Heren

    I suspect that there is still a significant number of Catholic MP’s in the Labour Party, especially those from a trades union background. The problem of course is that on the left there are several issues, such as abortion, which are very difficult to oppose too publicly (not that our English bishops seem to be terribly eager to stick their heads above the parapet either). Christian Socialism was part of the DNA of the Labour Party, and was composed of many strands – Anglican, Methodist. non-Conformist as well as RC. Frank Field MP is the best example still around of an old-fashioned high Anglican socialist. Despite the preponderance in the media of right wing Catholic commentators I would guess that the majority of Catholics probably vote Labour or Lib Dem at general elections. Certainly the overwhelming majority of our parish would see themselves as working class.

  • Benedict Carter

    Do they see themselves as Catholics? I mean – for the purpose of this thread – politically? Would your fellow parishioners choose their candidate out of the usual cattle-like tribalism or would they base their choice on the demands of the Faith?

  • Patrick_Heren

    I don’t notice the Tory party standing up for the rights of the unborn. Nor do I see my neighbours voting out of cattle-like tribalism, which sounds patronising in the extreme: I would guess they mostly vote according to what they se as their economic interest. 

  • Benedict Carter

    Tories are cattle-like too. I wasn’t pointing the finger at Labour. Why would you think I was? I myself would vote for none of the parties on offer. Better to stand oneself as a Catholic Independent. 

  • paulsays

    Surely though the London mayoral elections have put the life and soul back into politics to some degree. Seeing Boris and Ken tussle it out is great entertainment – and they actaully stand for different policies – as we can see from the respctive results of their previous terms in office.

    If this doesn’t enthuse people in politics -then what will?

  • Robin Leslie

    The Neo-liberal putsch of 1980 in the UK through Thatcher and in the USA through the actor Reagan
    marked the beginning of an ideological tyranny  that has reached almost global proportions today. This ideology is Utopian in intent and has as its rationale the transformation of all societies world-wide into
    modernised ‘liberal democracies’. For ‘liberal democracies’ read market Capitalist societies run according to the writs of individualism, laissez-faire opportunism, deregulated power, in a word
    runaway societies!
    The old traditional Labour Party funded by donations from poor workers and often even from the
    welfare benefits of the very poor was reinvented as New Labour by kleptomaniacs in their enthusiasm for fame and fortune abandoning the very people who historically funded and supported Old Labour in the past. It was an act of mind-boggling arrogance and Constitutional criminality. Most chilling of all were the bulwarks of principle which were removed by the new parvenues, Kinnock, Blair, Straw etc.
    All the mechanisms to ensure the perpetuity of collective well-being which set economic justice on an objective basis which couldn’t thereby fall into the subjectivized victimisation it has since 1980 fallen,
    were dismantled, viz. Clause 4, Trade Union representation within the Labour Party,
    Since these diastrous events we have seen the bogus New Labour elites flourish on endless expense
    accounts, property acquisitions, consultancies, media shows etc. etc. Blair himself, a Catholic of sorts,
    enriched himself from a portfolio of accumulated wealth, the fruits of his leadership of a Party that once proudly founded the protective institutions that nourished the poor, NHS, non-means-tested benefits,
    Legal Aid, Council Houses etc.
    New Labour should be brought to justice for their complicity with the Tories and the Liberal Democrats
    in reinventing, re-engineering and perpetuating a tyrannical anti-democratic Plutocracy in which
    increasing numbers of citizens cannot even afford to feed themselves.
    Well done Cardinal O’Brien for confronting this bare-faced tyranny, let us all assume responsibility
    for economic. social political and interpersonal justice in this country.Selfless love is justice and vice versa, that is what it really means to be Catholic today!

  • ChrisM10

    “Sitting at home is not an option.” Of course it is,  Spoiled ballots papers are not recorded statistically.  Turnout percentages are.  If they fall too low because people will not vote for those parties that do not reflect their values – whether Catholic or not -,all parties would pay attention.

    This research is relevant:

  • LocutusOP

    Many countries have “Christian parties” of various kinds, but many of them hardly do any better than the rest on fundamental issues.

    My guess is that if we had a Catholic party in the U.K. it would not attract enough voters to be significant – because most Christians basically free-load on the sanctity of former martyrs and have no serious convictions – or it would be a source of great scandal because it would go along with many of the evils of the other parties.

    Still, it’s a good question why we don’t have parties which – while not being overtly Catholic – don’t subsribe to Christian social doctrine.

  • LocutusOP

     I couldn’t agree more – don’t vote for any party if it has frave deal-breaker failings.

    But would it really affect the process? Is the executive mandate affected by the fact that an election has 10% turnout instead of 90%? In most countries we’d still end up with the same number of delegates with the same mandate to rule.

    Ideally the mandate of a parliament would be proportional to the turnout of an election: Low turn-out means no manadate to make constitutional reforms, for instance. I don’t see that happening though as such a move would have to pass through political parties, whose sole purlose seems to entrenching themselves into every facet of society.

    I think what Christians should do is perhaps try and engineer a take-over from within, as has been done by secularists in parties which once had strong Christian traditions.