A misjudged remark has provoked a backlash

At this week’s Labour conference in Liverpool, delegates were celebrating the Ten Commandments. No, not those ones, but a version drawn up by the group Christians on the Left and distributed on little cards. The first commandment is “Bring biscuits”. Other highlights include “Buy the first round” and “Keep the faith” (not specified). Whether the list had anything to do with the Gospel was debatable, but the idea seemed to catch on.

The list did not include any “Thou shalt nots”, but at Labour conference these do nonetheless exist. Thou shalt not, for instance, make jokes about any minorities – as Andy Kerr, chair of Labour’s National Executive Committee, discovered when moderating a debate. Kerr was picking out delegates to make comments from the floor, and struggling, David Dimbleby-like, to see audience members. (“That’s the one, with the card … No, the one in front.”) Kerr joked with one woman: “Since you’ve been persistent, I’m going to take it.” He laughed, adding: “Did you cross yourself, there? In that case, I might not.”

It wasn’t clear whether the delegate had actually crossed herself. In any case, the joke provoked a backlash. Richard Leonard, the leader of Scottish Labour, was asked on ITV if the remark was “bigoted”. He replied: “That might be one way of describing it.” Kerr apologised for his “ill-judged and wrong” one-liner.

Labour traditionally has close links to the Church, but Catholics have drifted away from the party as it has become increasingly devoted to social liberalism. It was the Blair government which shut down Catholic adoption agencies, after they refused to place children with same-sex couples. There seems plenty for the Labour leadership to apologise for before we get on to misjudged jokes.

But Ed Rennie, of Catholics for Labour, says Kerr’s remark has a troubling context: it is “symptomatic of the problem of ‘the last acceptable prejudice’ being all too rife on the left and within the Labour party.

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