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Kasper, who has withdrawn from the papal visit, has already come under pressure to apologise.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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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.