Fr Ray Blake called them out on abortion, but also delivered a tour de force on poverty and social justice

“Labour cannot become the Democrats.” That was the key message at the launch of Catholics for Labour at the party’s conference in Brighton Sunday night.

They are the first group dedicated to advancing Catholicism in a specific political party, but can they actually do this while Labour is dominated by the metropolitan progressive left?

They can expect a hard fight, especially as many self-described Catholic MPs often deviate from Church teaching.

Fr Raymond Blake, who celebrated the group’s inaugural Mass, wasn’t afraid to highlight this tension, calling out the pro-abortion views of some of the MPs present.

“Some of you, I know, have appalling voting records on life issues,” he said in the middle of his epic 18-minute sermon, to the visible discomfort of some present.

They were on safer ground for the rest of the time, however, as Fr Blake issued a call-to-arms for Christian social justice.

Family breakdown, deteriorating mental health among young people, loneliness among the elderly: these are all social evils Catholics must fight. The primary causes? Poverty and lack of respect for human dignity.

Much more palatable for a left-of-centre audience.

As founding member Emma Lewell-Buck MP said: “The Labour movement and Catholicism are firmly rooted in social justice, there are many synergies between the two.”

At a reception later, one of the speakers said Labour “cannot become the Democrats”.

In other words, they should be something more than a party of ultra-liberal metropolitan culture warriors; they should embrace the social views of both Christian and working-class voters – who are, after all, the party’s traditional base.

So are we witnessing the creation of an organised socially conservative caucus on the Labour benches? Possibly, although as Fr Blake’s admonishment reminds us, Catholic MPs are not always united on Church teaching.

Perhaps this new group will provide them with some much-needed solidarity the next time they vote on difficult social issues.

Mike Kane, one of the group’s founders, said Labour ignores Catholic voters “at its peril”. If this is true, Catholics for Labour is needed now more than ever.