Whiff of anti-popery

Observations on the Left

Is Labour becoming the anti-Catholic party? Young Labour's vice chairman, Conor McGinn, thinks so. He has resigned his position, offended by what he saw as the anti-Catholic attitude surrounding the recent Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. This was most stridently articulated by the Labour MEP Mary Honeyball, who asked: "Should devout Catholics such as Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Paul Murphy be allowed on the government front bench in the light of their predilection to favour the Pope's word above the government's?"

McGinn describes Honeyball's language as harking back to the days of Guy Fawkes. "Imagine substituting the words Jew or Muslim for Catholic in Mary Honeyball's comments - there would have been a furious reaction," says McGinn, whose stance resonates with several Catholic Labour MPs.

The words have "a strong whiff of the 17th century about them," agrees Stephen Pound, Labour MP for Ealing. He suggests that if there is no place for Catholics in political parties, then that points towards the creation of a separate party. "This leads to exclusively Muslim, Hindu, Anglican and even atheist parties."

Jim Dobbin, MP for Rochdale and chairman of the all-party pro-life group, has sent a letter to Gordon Brown expressing similar concerns. "There was the attempt by Alan Johnson, when education secretary, to force faith schools to take 25 per cent of non-believers. Then there was the adoption agency legislation to stop discrimination against gays and lesbians which finished up discriminating against the Catholic Church. Catholic adoption agencies are now closing."

He adds: "There are five million Catholics in the country. If the government think they can disregard even a small number of these voters then they are living in cloud cuckoo land."

Labour has 43 Catholic MPs, and while just 36 per cent of voters chose Labour in the last election, 53 per cent of Catholics stayed loyal to the party, according to pollster Ipsos Mori. The Catholic vote is particularly strong in London, Scotland and the north-west (where one in five is Catholic).

Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham, is under no illusions that the anti-Catholic rhetoric could have serious implications for the party at the ballot box. "Those behind the attacks fail to understand the strength of the Catholic constituency - not just voters backing Labour, but also among activists, unions and MPs."

Not all parliamentarians share the view that there is an anti-Catholic bias within the Labour Party. Thurrock MP Andrew Mackinlay says that, in the more than 30 years he has been a member, the party is no more anti-Catholic now than it has been at any time in the past. He believes that on the question of faith schools, Alan Johnson just made a political miscalculation; and climbed down when that was pointed out.

One northern Catholic MP does not believe the prejudice is anything like as bad as in the past. "When the debate on abortion was on in 1988 my local party tried to deselect me because of my position against it. At the actual vote there was a lot of strong-arming in the lobby, and there wasn't this time."

But he believes the Catholic Church is not helping itself by its actions. "The Church has to decide whether it wants to disengage from politics altogether on broader issues and just be heard on personal issues like abortion and euthanasia. The perception is increasing, both in parliament and in the media, that the Church only has a view on these particular issues."

Paul Donovan writes weekly columns for the Irish Post and Catholic weekly the Universe. He also contributes to the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, Tribune and the Morning Star.
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The players make their mistakes on the pitch – I make mine on the page

I find that if I watch three live games in a weekend, which often happens, I have totally forgotten the first two by the time the third comes up.

I was a bit humiliated and ashamed and mortified last week because of letters in this magazine about one of my recent columns. Wait till I see the Correspondence editor: there must be loads of nice letters, yet he or she goes and prints not just one, but two picking me up on my mistakes. By the left.

But mainly, my reaction was to laugh. Typical, huh, I’ve gone through life spelling things wrong, with dates dodgy, facts fictional – will I ever learn?

John Lennon did not use a watch. He maintained that he had people on the staff who would tell the time. I don’t wear a watch, either, but for different reasons. I want to get my wrists brown and I hate carrying anything.

By the same milk token, I don’t worry about my spelling. Like Lennon, I expect others to clear up after me. Surely the subs should have spotted it was a typo, that it is 64 years since 1951, not 54 as I wrote? What do they do all day? The other mistake was about replays in the League Cup: too boring to repeat, you would only yawn.

I usually try to get the spelling right the first time I use a word, then bash on, letting it come out any old way, intending to correct it later. Is it Middlesbrough or Middlesborough? Who cares? I’ll check later. Then I forget.

I was so pleased when Patrick Vieira left Arsenal. I found those ten seasons a nightmare, whenever I realised his surname was lumbering into vieiw (I mean “view”). Why couldn’t I memorise it? Mental laziness. The same reason that I don’t know the phone numbers of any of my children, or the correct spelling of my grandchildren’s names, Amarisse and Siena. I have to ask my wife how many Ss and how many Ns. She knows everything. The birthday of every member of the royal family? Go on, ask her.

I might be lazy on piddling stuff such as spelling but I like to think my old brain is still agile. I have three books on the go which are hellishly complicated. I have the frameworks straight in my head but I don’t want to cram anything else in.

It can be a bit embarrassing when writing about football, though. Since sport was invented, fans have been making lists, trotting out facts, showing off their information. As a boy, I was a whizz on the grounds of all 92 League clubs, knew the nicknames of all the clubs. It’s what you did. Comics like Adventure produced pretty colour charts full of such facts. I don’t remember sitting down and learning it all. It just went in, because I wanted it to go in.

Today, the world of football is even madder on stats than it ever was. I blame computers and clever graduates who get taken on by the back pages with nothing else to do but create stats. And TV, with its obsession with possession, as if it meant anything.

I find that if I watch three live games in a weekend, which often happens, I have totally forgotten the first two by the time the third comes up. Not just the score but who was playing. When Wayne Rooney or whoever is breaking records, or not, my eyes go glazed, refusing to take in the figures. When I read that Newcastle are again winless in their first seven League games now, I start turning the pages. If I get asked who won the Cup in 1923, my immediate answer is HowthefeckdoIknow. Hold on, I do know that. It was the first Cup final at Wembley, won by Bolton Wanderers. I remember that, having been there. I don’t know the dates of any other Cup final winners. England’s World Cup win? That was 1966 and I really was there.

I love football history (I’ve written three books about it) but it’s the players and the history of the clubs, the boots and strips, development in the laws, that’s what I enjoy knowing. Spellings and dates – hmm, I do always have to think. Did the Football League begin in 1888 or 1885? If I pause for half a second, I can work it out. Professional football came in first, which must have been 1885, so the Football League came later. Thus the answer is 1888. Bingo. Got it.

But more often than not, I guess, or leave it out. So, sorry about those mistakes. And if you’ve spotted any today, do keep it to yourself. 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide