"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
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Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left