Saturday, October 04, 2008

New Labour: anti-Catholic

Ruth Kelly is out and so is Des Browne. There is a lot of speculation as to whether Ruth Kelly went because she really wanted to spend time with her family or because of her opposition to the Human Fertilisation and Embriology Bill, or simply that she found her Catholic Faith incompatable with her party's politics. One of the things that marks "New" Labour is its secularism, whilst Methodism and Catholic Social teaching formed "Old" Labour, especially in Scotland and the North. Why is Des Browne out? Why is Cruddas not in? Is it their Catholicism?

I had an email from Red Maria, who is profoundly pro-life, and very much old Labour, and a good Catholic expressing her concern about Mary Honeyball, see her website, who seems to exemplify today's anti-Catholicism.

You've blogged a number of times on the problem of anti-Catholicism in the Labour Party and growing threats to conscience rights. The Mary Honeyball affair exemplifies both these things. In May she wrote an eye-wateringly anti-Catholic peice for the Guardian in which she questioned whether Roman Catholics should be discriminated against in public life, which prompted the resignation of Conor McGinn as vice chair of Young Labour. She continued her campaign against Roman Catholics and added to it with a personal smear campaign against McGinn.

The good news is that she was roundly condemned by numerous Labour MPs including Jim Dobbin, Stephen Pound, Peter Kilfoyle, David Taylor and privately by David Milliband for her anti-Catholicism and by Jeremy Corbyn for her egregious attacks on Conor McGinn. Prominent Labour blogger Luke Akehurst recently criticised her and a few months ago even an Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) blog did. The significance of this is that the AWL are the most headbangingly secularist of all the hard left groups but even one of them thought her sentiments bizarre.

The bad news is that Honeyball's views are not by any means unusual in the European Parliament and that as an MEP she holds rather more power than many people realise. One example suffices to make the point. Back in 2005 a budgetary amendment came before the European Parliament which would have blocked funding to any country or program involved in forced abortion or coercive sterilisation as part of a population control program. It only dealt with forced abortion and coercive sterilisation. In other words it was precisely the kind of amendment pro-choicers would have been able to sign up to. The Party of European Socialists (PES) which British Labour MEPs are a part of voted against the amendment en bloc and as a result it failed. It was indicated to me at the time by a PES press officer that Honeyball was instrumental in the PES's opposition to the amendment. She is the Labour Party's spokesperson on women's rights in the EU Parliament even though she plainly disregards the rights of millions of Chinese and Vietnamese women.

She is also a supporter of a notoriously anti-Catholic group called "Catholics" for Choice (CFC). A US-based group, funded by among others, the Playboy Foundation, it has hitherto attracted little attention in the British Catholic press. This is a big mistake because it is expanding its activities in the EU and now provides the secretariat for a group in the European Parliament, which Honeyball is a member of. CFC tells lies about Roman Catholic Church teaching - particularly on the sanctity of human life, spreading the false notion that the Church's opposition to abortion is of a recent vintage. It also conducts witchhunts against Roman Catholics in public life and campaigns for the erosion of conscience rights.

The Mary Honeyball affair has been covered quite extensively by The Universe - there's a news story about her on page 2 of this week's issue, by the Catholic Herald which first reported on McGinn's resignation and to a much lesser extent by The Tablet. However, so far, journalists haven't connected all the dots about her, the EU parliament, CFC and threats to conscience rights. The view is increasingly being put about that conscience rights are not fundamental democratic rights but special pleading by religious groups. In addition there seem to be moves to downgrade conscience rights if they conflict with other "rights". This received its most significant expression a few years ago when the EU parliament's legal committee blocked a concordat between Slovakia and The Vatican which would have protected the conscience rights of conscientious objectors to abortion. Similarly, Honeyball argues that Roman Catholics in the Labour government should resign and/or be discriminated against if they can't support the HFE Bill, blythly ignoring or wilfully ignorant of the long standing convention that matters concerning the beginning and end of human life are always subject to a free vote. More than that, she implies that Roman Catholics are a disloyal fifth column in the Labour Party and crazily, claims the Roman Catholic Church "has a grip on the media, parliament and public sphere".

Her mistake was to broadcast her views among a British audience. In Brussels, however, such sentiments are quite normal, with conferences being held discussing the supposedly baleful influence of the Church on public policy and how to counter it.

My own view is that Catholics should be more aware of this sort of thing. I've covered the Honeyball/McGinn affair a lot on my blog and am due to update it with more soon but finding the time is difficult. If you could bring some of this to the attention of your readers I would be grateful. If you are interested, I can provide you with chapter and verse.


Anonymous said...

An excellent post.

Remember too that many women who are Labour MPs were supported by "Emily's List" which provided them with financial support to further their political careers - provided that they were pro - abortion.

In addition some Catholic Labour MPs have been "uncooperative" with other parts of the Blair/Brown agenda - eg the Labour Government insistence that Catholic Adoption Agencies should be willing to hand over children to Gay/Lesbian couples.

The Bones said...

Hopefully, the next election will see Labour routed out of office. I never thought I'd say that!

Anonymous said...


oldandrew said...

I can't work out whether you are using the terms New Labour and Old Labour in unconventional ways or you really aren't familiar with recent history.

"New Labour" usually refers to the leadership of Tony Blair, who now is Catholic, and under whose government there has been an extension of Church schools and free votes on most ethical issues.

"Old Labour" is normally used to refer to the Marxist influenced activists of the 1980s who generally were atheists, feel the party should support abortion, and want Church schools abolished.

How you have painted the former as anti-catholic (presumably Tony Blair is a self-hating Catholic) and the latter as anti-Catholic (have you met these people?) is beyond me.

Voltaire's Priest said...

Notwishtanding that the sheer irrationalism involved indescribing anyone secularist as a "headbanger" for not supporting religious control of the state is, well, a bit mad.

Furthermore, just a factual correction. The "AWL blog" that Maria quotes is Shiraz Socialist, which is not in fact a blog representing the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. The article that she cites was written by me, and again, just to make it clear, I am not an AWL member. Maria is actually well aware of this fact: I can therefore only assume that she'd been at the cooking sherry when writing that briefing...

Anonymous said...

I just wish my MP had been ousted as well, as it is he was promoted to Secretary of State for Scotland so I suppose I know what way he plans on voting for the HFE bill now.

I think Labour has been drifting this way for a while, despite being almost dependent on Catholic voters to get a majority in Parliament. The good news is that we've already started to shift away from them in Scotland as seen in the recent Scottish Parliament and by elections. Hopefully a similar result will be seen at the next General election.

Fr Ray Blake said...

"(presumably Tony Blair is a self-hating Catholic)"

a strange inconsistancy certainly, his policies and voting record are variance with our Faith.

Volpius Leonius said...

Is the British Government been anti-catholic really news?

They have been anti-catholic for nearly 500 years now!

nickbris said...

The Labour Party have always had their hands tied by the groups who support them,it was always the Trade Unions who had the money and power.Now thanks to that MAD WOMAN who virtually emasculated the unions the New Labour Party has to do the bidding of extremist pressure groups.

These blackmailing groups have to be destoyed and then Labour can get on with running the country for the majority.

God help us if the other Barmy lot sneak in again

Anonymous said...

You totally right! But idea is good! I want more time with my family.

Anonymous said...

Lisbon treaty , it matters not a jot who gets voted into power in the regional areas. All hitherto autonomous governments will be reduced to the role of policing and enforcing EU policy in effect.

Pray to God it never gets through or it won't matter who gets in at all in our elections.

Red Maria said...

Voltaire's Priest, you're quite right, you are a former AWL member. My email was dashed out quite late and very fast, hence the zippy shorthand employed in describing the AWL as "headbangingly" secularist. I think we can agree on robustly secularist, or even more distinctively secularist than other groups on the hard left.
Still, I think it's fair to say that you retain the robust, distinctive secularism of the AWL.

But even you found Mary Honeyball's pitch to Prospect magazine and Fabian Review, in which she referred to "the grip" the Catholic Church had on "parliament, the media and public sphere" paranoid nonsense of the highest order.

And you were not the only leftwing secularist to do so. I've heard from Tribunite Labour Party members who have frankly said they don't like what she's been saying.

The point I was trying to make is that there have been plenty of decent secularists, yourself among them, who've found Honeyball's comments bizarre.

I remember the reaction of a Labourite, who happens to be associated with New Humanist magazine, when he read it. He gasped. Then there was a long pause. "She's absolutely bonkers," he said finally.

That's the least of it. In recent months she's also revealed herself to be a self-promoting hypocrite, spiteful, vindictive and wholly lacking in self-awareness.

She has also waged a disgraceful campaign against Conor McGinn, the Labour activist who resigned as vice chair of Young Labour in protest at her remarks, accusing him - and Catholics - of using "bullyboy tactics" by resigning and, she claimed, using his contacts in the press to have what she described as one-sided stories published in the press about the affair.

Let's pause a moment and get the full measure of this. Resignation, something she urges Catholic cabinet members to do, is, according to Mary Honebyall using "bullyboy tactics". So, by the way is this comment. And the blog post Father Ray Blake wrote. And in fact, all the comments written by Catholics on this blog entry. They're all an attempt to bully her, to intimidate her and to shut down the debate she has opened up.

She can say whatever rubbish she likes, intimate that there is a vast Catholic conspiracy at work and she calls that "scrutiny".

But if any of us dare to differ, in other words, if we take up the debate she has initiated, we are bullying her. That's not a debate. It's a barking mad monologue.

Creepily, there are also indications of attempts to cast aspersions on the journalist Paul Donovan who has covered the story extensively. He wrote a peice about the affair for the New Statesman. The following comment appeared on its online version:

statesperson 23 June 2008 at 21:18 Isn't Donovan a friend of McGinn's should this have been noted it is a biased piece you could even say bigoted but that is the kind of laxzy language that causes more problems than it solves.......

As I noted on my blog, the semi-literate, unpunctuated English was strongly reminiscent of the pitch sent by Honeyball's researcher to Fabian Review and Progress magazine.

Mary Honeyball is so soaked in anti-Catholic bigotry that she disregards the normal conventions of party comradeship to attack Catholic Labourites, frequently in gratuitously bitchy terms. Yet she is an MEP.

Why does this matter?

Well, for one thing it's difficult to see how she can represent her Catholic constituents given her well-documented extremist views.

Secondly, Honeyball increases the alienation felt by a lot of Catholic Labourites and by so doing, potentially deprives Catholics of a political choice.

And as an MEP she also wields considerable power.

Back in September 2005 amendment 6366 to the EU budget was proposed. It read:

"Community assistance shall not be given to any government or organisation or programme which supports or participates in the management of a programme which involves human rights abuses such as coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation or infanticide. This implements the specific Cairo ICPD prohibition on coercion or compulsion in sexual and reproductive health matters . The Commission shall present each year a report on the implementation of the EU’s external assistance covering this programme."

As the reader will see, the amendment dealt only with forced abortion and coercive sterilisation. Anyone who is genuinely pro-choice would have been able to support it unequivocally.

What did Honeyball do?

She opposed it.

Mary Honeyball, who is, by the way, the Labour Party's spokesperson on women's rights, opposed an amendment which would have affirmed the rights of untold numbers of women who are sterilised against their will and forced to have abortions.

This is scandalous.

And this isn't some theoretical issue either. Forced abortion and coercive sterilisation are terrifyingly real issues for millions of women around the world today.

In 2006 a report by the Czech legal ombudsman found that at least 50 Roma women were forcibly sterilised in cases that ranged from the 1970s to as late as 2003.

In 2001 the Peruvian independent human rights commission found that hundreds of thousands of native Peruvian women were forcibly sterilised under the 1990s Fujimori regime.

As I write this, blind Chinese human rights activist, Chen Guangcheng is languishing in jail. He was jailed on trumped up charges after he attempted to launch a class action lawsuit against the Chinese government for human rights abuses perpetrated as part of its one-child policy. He found cases of foetuses up to eight months gestation being forcibly aborted.

Mary Honeyball kicked all those women and men like Chen in the teeth when she opposed amendment 6366.

But hardly anyone in the UK knew about this outrage and population control programs which Western women would never tolerate for themselves continue to be lavishly funded by the EU, thanks to people like Honeyball. I think this should give us all pause for thought.

Voltaire's Priest said...

Voltaire's Priest, you're quite right, you are a former AWL member.

Yes I was Maria, for about 18 months as an undergraduate student in the 1990s. In fact, as you're well aware and I'm sure will acknowledge, there are several posters on Shiraz Socialist and only one is a member of the AWL. The blog never has, and never will, take its editorial cues from the AWL.

As for secularism, I did not take my views on the subject from the AWL. What does amaze me, is how many people have forgotten what the word means. My opposition to religious influence over the state (which is what secularism actually is in practice) is one of the reasons why I said what I said about Honeyball. If she'd been telling the truth I'd have backed her up, but she wasn't.

However my views are also the reason why I was doing cartwheels when the ghastly Ruth "Opus Dei" Kelly walked off into the distance.

PeterHWright said...

Deep is calling to deep here in a way I can't follow. I've never fully understood party politics.

New labour meant Tony Blair et al. Old labour meant Michael Foot et al. But what then should I call the party of Atlee and Gaitskell ?

oldandrew said...

New labour meant Tony Blair et al. Old labour meant Michael Foot et al. But what then should I call the party of Atlee and Gaitskell ?


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