Could Corbyn's leadership be good news for Catholic Labour voters?
The re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, widely predicted though it was, has still managed to deflate moderates across the party.
Corbyn’s comfortable victory over his challenger Owen Smith (62 per cent to 38 per cent of the vote) means that, in all likelihood, he will now lead Labour into the 2020 general election – and near certain defeat.
As I wandered around the conference hotels in Liverpool, gallows humour was everywhere. It’s as good a barometer as any for the state of the modern Labour party and its descent into idiocy.
After all, the north-west of England sends more Labour MPs to Westminster than anywhere else in the country, and outside London this is where the party has most members.
And in my experience, an awful lot of them are Catholics: activists and councillors as well as MPs and their staff. They are badly out of kilter with Corbyn’s New Model Labour Party of enthusiastic youngsters, pseudo-revolutionaries and men in their 50s who still wear T-shirts in public. To these newcomers, politics is about slogans and posturing. Their answers to complex issues are trite. Religion, invariably, is part of the problem. So current developments in the Labour party should be disastrous news for Catholics.
And yet Corbyn is, at present, seemingly (and perhaps counter-intuitively), no worse for Catholics, no more antagonistic, or uncharitable, than any of his predecessors. The culture war that Catholic lefties like me dreaded has not arrived. Not yet at any rate.
Perhaps it’s a question of age. At 66, Corbyn is part of a generation on the left that associates Catholics with peace movement politics. He is presumably acquainted with Bruce Kent, given that Corbyn joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) as a schoolboy and has remained a member ever since.
Who knows, he may even be thinking about his own mortality. (Or about not upsetting the Irish Catholic votes in his Islington constituency).
Of course, the fun starts when a flashpoint issue emerges. Theresa May’s plans for more grammar schools could churn-up the dormant row about “faith” schools. And it is certainly hard to see Corbyn standing against feminist ultras on removing abortion time limits or repealing legislation on euthanasia.
As Corbyn starts to flesh out policy changes and shape Labour’s manifesto for 2020, it seems likely that all manner of crackpot measures will find their way in.
This is what happened under Michael Foot in the early 1980s, with Labour’s 1983 electoral meltdown in no small part blamed on its crazy manifesto – “the longest suicide note in history”, as it was dubbed.
The culture war may well be post-dated. For now, Labour is cocooned in its internal problems. The conference mood was insular and solemn.
On the fringe, the British Humanist Association (BHA) and Labour Humanists organised a “No prayer breakfast”, mocking Labour’s Christians who like to gather for their early morning sessions (too early, alas, for your humble correspondent).
The Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee was listed as guest speaker, but no Labour politicians were down to attend. The BHA also had its usual stall in the exhibition area, but so too did Christians on the Left – the rebranded Christian Socialist Movement – while the charity Islamic Relief was also present.
On the fringes of the conference the party’s “Blue Labour” devotees gathered to discuss how they can grow their influence in the party. Their “post-liberal”, socially conservative agenda rejects free market dogma and social liberalism alike and is heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching. But they have no champions in the Corbyn universe and look to be a marginal force. Even so, in the now heavily Balkanised Labour party, they may yet find their niche. In contemporary Labour politics, anything is plausible.
Of course, little of this matters if Labour continues to crash in the polls, as now seems inevitable, so its policies and positions will have little real-world relevance – whether they are hostile to Catholics or not.
For now, the swivel-eyed Corbynistas have found their messiah, so there’s no need to bother with the real one.