Let's not disrupt the Pope

Can we just ignore or deride him instead?

For those of us who are merely secular or anti-clerical rather than militantly atheistic, there is something rather off-putting about the possible scale of the impending protests at the papal visit.

It would appear that there is a fear that the protests will be such that the papal tour will be disrupted.

This fear is so serious that it is reported that there is to be a meeting at Scotland Yard between the police, the Archbishop of Southwark, and representatives of the Protest the Pope campaign.

If this fear is well-grounded - if it is plausible that the effect of the protests would be to either prevent or inhibit the course of the papal visit - then perhaps the strategy of mass protests is misconceived.

Not only would the rightful freedom of expression of the Pope and his followers be unfairly undermined by a noisy and determined group; it is likely that such protests would be counter-productive.

It is not as if the Roman Catholic church hasn't got a track-record of converting hostility into claiming an undeserved victim status. After all, they've been doing it since the Romans.

None of this is to deny the seriousness of any of the reported scandals as to the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests; nor does it mean that the the papal opposition to contraception in the developing world is anything less than an incredible evil.

All those things need to be addressed.

But protests which may lead to disruption simply do not seem an effective or efficient response to the visit. There is no rational link between disrupting the visit and the policy and operational changes which most sensible people want the Roman Catholic church to adopt urgently.

So if there is a real risk of disruption, then perhaps the visit should be ignored.

Or, even better, we can just deride the Pope instead.

We can all sing along with the Pope Song by Tim Minchin.

We can enjoy the superb and scathing internet satires of Crispian Jago.

We can meet the head of this dysfunctional organisation not with hatred and intimidation, but with laughter and intellectual subversion.

And we can use the appropriate governmental and legal channels to put an end to the wickedness of some of its priests towards children, and to offer redress to those who have already suffered.

Priests should always be treated like any person suspected of a crime and face due process for their alleged offences.

I am not saying that there should be any limit placed on any person's peaceful protest. There is nothing wrong with Protesting the Pope.

But surely there is no need to disrupt the Pope as well.

David Allen Green is a lawyer and writer. His Jack of Kent blog was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2010. He will now be blogging regularly for the New Statesman on legal and policy matters.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Who is responsible for an austerity violating human rights? Look to New Labour

Labour's record had started to improve under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. 

The UN has made it clear the Government’s austerity programme breaches human rights. This is not because of spending cuts - it is because because those spending cuts target women and disadvantaged groups, particularly disabled people and asylum seekers.

The degree of injustice is staggering. The Coalition Government used a combination of tax increases and benefit cuts to reduce the net income of the poorest tenth of families by 9 per cent. The cuts faced by disabled people are even more extreme. For instance, more than half a million people have lost social care in England (a cut of over 30 per cent). Asylum seekers are now deprived of basic services.

The injustice is also extremely regional, with the deepest cuts falling on Labour heartlands. Today’s austerity comes after decades of decline and neglect by Westminster. Two places that will be most harmed by the next round of cuts are Blackpool (pictured) and Blackburn. These are also places where Labour saw its voters turn to UKIP in 2015, and where the Leave vote was strong.

Unscrupulous leaders don’t confront real problems, instead they offer people scapegoats. Today’s scapegoats are immigrants, asylum seekers, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people. It takes real courage, the kind of courage the late MP Jo Cox showed, not to appease this prejudice, but to challenge it.

The harm caused by austerity is no surprise to Labour MPs. The Centre for Welfare Reform, and many others, have been publishing reports describing the severity and unfairness of the cuts since 2010. Yet, during the Coalition Government, it felt as if Labour’s desire to appear "responsible" led  Labour to distance itself from disadvantaged groups. This austerity-lite strategy was an electoral disaster.

Even more worrying, many of the policies criticised by the UN were created by New Labour or supported by Labour in opposition. The loathed Work Capability Assessment, which is now linked to an increase in suicides, was first developed under New Labour. Only a minority of Labour MPs voted against many of the Government’s so-called "welfare reforms". 

Recently things appeared to improve. For instance, John McDonnell, always an effective ally of disabled people, had begun to take the Government to task for its attacks on the income’s of disabled people. Not only did the media get interested, but even some Tories started to rebel. This is what moral leadership looks like.

Now it looks like Labour is going to lose the plot again. Certainly, to be electable, Labour needs coherent policies, good communication and a degree of self-discipline. But more than this Labour needs to be worth voting for. Without a clear commitment to justice and the courage to speak out on behalf of those most disadvantaged, then Labour is worthless. Its support will disappear, either to the extreme Right or to parties that are prepared to defend human rights.

Dr Simon Duffy is the director of the Centre for Welfare Reform