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Kasper, who has withdrawn from the papal visit, has already come under pressure to apologise.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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Every day, Theresa May's mask slips a little further

First the Human Rights Act, now Dfid. What's next, asks Jon Ashworth.

The news that the new International Development Secretary is about to slash development spending and channel Britain's aid budget into defence spending is yet another major slip of the new government's centrist mask.

Theresa May has tried to pitch her policy agenda as prioritising social justice and a “Britain that works for everyone” but the reality is that this announcement is the true right-wing colours of her government shining through.

The appointment of the most right-wing Cabinet for decades was a major warning sign, with figures such as David Davis, who said he was “very worried” about sexual discrimination legislation, and Liam Fox, who said equal marriage was “social engineering”, now at the highest level in government.

Those of us passionate about development were horrified when Priti Patel, who has previously called for the Department for International Development to be scrapped, was appointed as the department's new Secretary of State, but few of us would have imagined such a dramatic break with Britain's strong development legacy so soon.

Not only is what is reported very dubious in terms of the strict regulations placed on development spending- and Priti Patel has already come dangerously close to crossing that line by saying we could use the aid budget to leverage trade deals - it also betrays some of the very poorest in the world at a time when many regions are facing acute humanitarian crises.

It was Gordon Brown who put international development at the heart of 13 years of Labour government, massively increasing aid spending and focusing minds in Britain and abroad on the plight of those suffering from poverty, famine and the ravages of war. David Cameron followed Gordon’s lead, enshrining the 0.7 per cent aid budget in law, making Britain the first G7 country to do so. In light of these new revelations Theresa May must now restate her commitment to the target.

Sadly, it now seems that Theresa May and Priti Patel want to turn the clock back on all that progress, diminishing Britain's role in international development and subverting the original mission of the department by turning it into a subsidiary of the Ministry of Defence, focused on self-interest and security. Not only will this create the opposite of the "outward-looking and globally-minded country" Theresa May said just weeks ago she wanted Britain to be, it’s also a betrayal of some of the poorest people across the planet.

Other examples of the right-wing traits of this Government surfaced earlier this week too. On Friday it emerged that Gerard Lopez, a tax-haven based businessman with links to Russian State banks that have been sanctioned in the wake of the Ukrainian conflict, donated £400,000 to the Tory party just months ago. Theresa May needs to tell us what meetings and interactions she has had with Lopez.

Earlier in the week Liz Truss, the new Justice Secretary, brazenly insisted that the Government would proceed with scrapping the Human Rights Act, despite fierce opposition from politicians of all parties and the public.

With so many right-wing announcements trickling though when the government has hardly had time to change the name plaques above the doors you've got to wonder and worry about what else is set to come.

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South.