Racism and the Vatican

Why that “third world country” comment was much worse than you think.

It might seem as if the Vatican has no moral authority left to lose, but with his description of Britain as a "third world country", Cardinal Walter Kasper has done his best.

In an interview with the German news magazine Focus, Kasper declared:

[Britain is] a secular and pluralist country. Sometimes, when you land at Heathrow, you think you have entered a third world country.

Some bloggers have interpreted Kasper's comments as an attack on the quality of Heathrow Airport. But they, along with much of the mainstream media, have obviously missed the "clarification" issued by the Vatican.

According to the Pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, Kasper's comments actually referred to Britain's multi-ethnic composition. Is Kasper really suggesting that ethnic minorities have no place in a developed country like Britain?

Apparently so. One can only assume that the multi-ethnic nature of travellers (and staff) at Heathrow offended the cardinal's separatist sensibilities.

Kasper, who has withdrawn from the papal visit, has already come under pressure to apologise. Cardinal O'Brien, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said:

That was unfortunate, and each and every person's aides sometimes do make awkward, difficult remarks. Sometimes we make awkward, difficult remarks ourselves. And simply, if we do that sort of thing, we apologise for it, and I'm sure Cardinal Kasper will apologise for any intemperate remarks which he made some time ago.

But these are weasel words compared to the scale of Kasper's offence. If the Vatican, many of whose followers live in the "third world", wishes to salvage some dignity, it could begin by ordering Kasper to apologise for his slur on the UK and its population.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.