"Jesus was a lefty"

So says a Daily Mail star writer. Why will that annoy lefties so much?

I have been wondering for some time when the opportunity would arise to discuss whether Christianity has an inherently left-wing message. Now it has -- and from an unexpected quarter. The Daily Mail's parliamentary sketchwriter, Quentin Letts, may be an occasional contributor to the NS, but it is fair to say that he is viewed with some suspicion in bien-pensant circles. He has been accused of snobbery, homophobia, misogyny and of making fun of Harriet Harman (though why that should be a cause of dismay, I cannot say). I, on the other hand, can personally vouch for Quentin's many estimable qualities. But be that as it may. He is unquestionably a Tory.

And that is why I found it so interesting that in his new book, Bog-Standard Britain, Quentin writes the following:

Jesus preached fairness -- you could almost call him a Lefty . . . Christianity has a redistributive message yet the professionals of egalitarian Britain are twitchy about organised religion. They cannot bear the thought of a hierarchy of priests speaking from raised pulpits, bending down to the faithful to impart mercy. Hey, that's the secular state's role.

Now it may be clear that Quentin has other targets in mind, but that does not alter his acknowledgement of what I have always felt: that the tenets of Christianity must lead anyone who takes them seriously to incline towards political views that most often find expression in parties of the left. I remember coming back from Catholic confirmation classes to be questioned by a teacher at my Anglican prep school. "What ideas has that radical priest been putting in your head?" she asked. Only what seemed to me to be the obvious consequences of New Testament instruction.

"If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" still appears a clear command to pacifism, and it fitted at that time (this was the mid-Eighties) with CND then being led by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Bruce Kent. Equally, Jesus's response to the young man who asked him, "What must I do to be saved?" -- "Sell all you have, give the money to the poor" -- struck me as the antithesis of the "greed is good" atmosphere of the Thatcher and Reagan years.

I don't know whether Jesus, if he were to appear on earth today, would shop at Asda rather than M&S, as the Bishop of Reading said in September. But it certainly seemed to me then that he would have found little to his taste in the often callous and uncaring rhetoric of the British right during those years. Feeble attempts to suggest that the Parable of the Talents shows that Christ would want everyone to work at Goldman Sachs fail to convince, and in any case clearly miss the larger point.

As I have pointed out before, the history of English radicalism would be a bare tapestry indeed without the Christianity that sustained it (as, to be fair, it also informs the One Nation Toryism to which I imagine Quentin subscribes). So why do so many on the left wish to ignore this tradition, even to excise it from political debate today? Why are they so afraid of the idea that left-wing notions of fairness, duty and the good society might derive from sources other than social democratic theory?

People can say all they want about the behaviour of the churches over the centuries. That is not relevant here. The point is the proposition that Jesus himself was a "lefty". Funny that it should take one of the Mail's star writers to point this out, and that that statement should be so distasteful to so many who might have been expected to acknowledge its truth themselves.

 

 

 

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
Getty
Show Hide image

The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era