How Conrad Black poped

The ex-Telegraph owner on his road to Rome

The disgraced former newspaper proprietor Conrad Black has written an interesting piece for the new issue of the Catholic Herald about his "snail's pace" journey to Rome. It is extremely lengthy, and goes into more detail about Canadian (specifically Québecquois) Catholicism than most would think strictly necessary. Still, he is an expansive and learned writer, and perhaps one shouldn't begrudge the ex-Telegraph owner a little latitude from one paper in which he is still a "major shareholder", as it says at the end of his piece.

There is a sprinkling of witticisms -- I liked "The Lord is my shepherd, even in Palm Beach". But one passage caught my eye as having possible relevance to Black's long stewardship of the Telegraph papers:

I saw the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec, and later in most other places, as fiercely dedicated to the kingdom of God, resistant to opportunistic fads, concerned to modernise without eroding faith, armed with intellectual arguments quite equal, at the least, to those of their secular opponents or rivals.

The noticeable change after Black took over the group in 1986 was the introduction of a more ideological tone. The lines on Northern Ireland, Israel, abortion and the proper meaning of Conservatism all became more unbending, especially after the 1995 appointment as Daily Telegraph editor of Black's fellow Catholic convert, Charles Moore. Nothing like the zeal of . . . etc.

The papers were still homes of fine writing and journalists (I myself had my first contract at the Sunday Telegraph in the mid-1990s, although that is entirely coincidental to my praise) but the old, broad-church, more accommodating approach -- more Anglican, one might say -- was gradually squeezed out, and something rather civilised was lost. One can certainly see a connection between Black's preference for a faith he saw as "fiercely dedicated" and "resistant to fads" and his distinctly brisk political views.That said, I'm afraid I must also point out Black's amusing, if rather cutting, comments about the foundation of the Church of England.

As a nominal Anglican, I had always had some problems with Henry VIII as a religious leader. That he apostatised to facilitate marriage with a woman whom he soon beheaded on false charges of adultery, seized the monasteries to finance his wars in France, and required his puppet parliament to give him back the title "Defender of the Faith" (still on the Canadian coinage in honour of the present Queen) that the pope had given him in recognition of a canonical paper Erasmus had ghost-written for him, never filled me with confidence in the legitimacy of the Church of England.

As someone who spent much time as a child in Anglican cathedrals and churches fully conscious that they had once been Catholic buildings, I find myself nodding in agreement -- though Anglicans tend to look rather wounded if you make the point Black does here. So, in general, I don't.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Lord Sainsbury pulls funding from Progress and other political causes

The longstanding Labour donor will no longer fund party political causes. 

Centrist Labour MPs face a funding gap for their ideas after the longstanding Labour donor Lord Sainsbury announced he will stop financing party political causes.

Sainsbury, who served as a New Labour minister and also donated to the Liberal Democrats, is instead concentrating on charitable causes. 

Lord Sainsbury funded the centrist organisation Progress, dubbed the “original Blairite pressure group”, which was founded in mid Nineties and provided the intellectual underpinnings of New Labour.

The former supermarket boss is understood to still fund Policy Network, an international thinktank headed by New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson.

He has also funded the Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe. The latter reinvented itself as Open Britain after the Leave vote, and has campaigned for a softer Brexit. Its supporters include former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Chuka Umunna, and it now relies on grassroots funding.

Sainsbury said he wished to “hand the baton on to a new generation of donors” who supported progressive politics. 

Progress director Richard Angell said: “Progress is extremely grateful to Lord Sainsbury for the funding he has provided for over two decades. We always knew it would not last forever.”

The organisation has raised a third of its funding target from other donors, but is now appealing for financial support from Labour supporters. Its aims include “stopping a hard-left take over” of the Labour party and “renewing the ideas of the centre-left”. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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