In this week’s New Statesman: The audacity of popes

PLUS: Vince Cable on the great stagnation of post-crisis Britain.

John Cornwell: Goodbye to all that

In our cover story this week, the author John Cornwell investigates the history of previous papacies and asks whether a new pope could lead the Catholic Church in a more progressive direction.

The conservative papacies of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, he argues, “denounced liberation theology” and “resulted in an increase in Roman centralisation”, which led to “the failure to deal with the clerical abuse scandal promptly”. He writes that, from the middle of the 19th century, the papacy “has obstinately resisted the advance of secularism and democracy”; he notes in particular the Vatican’s battle against contraception and the American Catholic hierarchy’s public condemnation of Barack Obama’s health-care reforms, which “insisted that Catholic institutions staffed by non-Catholics should contribute to national insurance schemes that might be used to purchase contraceptives”. He adds:

Over the 32 years of the Wojtyła-Ratzinger partnership, the progressive Vatican II reforms have been eroded at the top in Rome, disclosing a political perspective that is increasingly reactionary and fundamentalist...

In the debates between the New Atheism and religionists, it is widely recognised that the point at which religion consistently transforms from benign to maleficent is when it fails to adopt a pluralist approach to other faiths as well as to the secular domain . . .

The tendency of the two most recent popes to lecture and dictate, rather than be part of a living conversation with their peer group, must be seen as a lost opportunity in a world facing such great socio-economic crises.

ELSEWHERE IN THE MAGAZINE

 

Vince Cable: When the facts change, should I change my mind?

In an exclusive essay for the NS this week, the Business Secretary contradicts George Osborne’s economic strategy - arguing that the "balance of risks" may have changed - and calls for "greatly expanded" capital spending.

This bold intervention, published just two weeks ahead of the Budget, can be read in full here - while George Eaton's expert summary of Cable's key points can be found here.

 

The Politics Interview: Jim Murphy blasts “lazy Labour”

In an interview with Rafael Behr, the Shadow Defence Secretary attacks the Labour Party’s "lazy" culture and its "sense of entitlement to win".

Murphy warns against a spread of "militant apathy" and condemns some of the party for failing to engage properly with voters. Ukip's strong performance in the Eastleigh by-elections, he argues, serves as a warning. He says:

If you don't knock on people's doors between now and polling day, you deserve what you get. They'll say “Where were you when I was struggling, when my husband lost his job, when my hours were cut, when I needed you?” . . . It's not an Eastleigh problem, it's a wider problem. It's Lazy Labour.

In the most explicit statement yet from inside the shadow cabinet of Labour's vulnerability, Murphy warns against relying on a collapse in the Lib Dem vote to deliver a majority for the opposition:

For a lot of people, it's fun to kick the Liberals but if you want a big, One-Nation mandate, it's pretty fruitless to just do that. Winning 2010 Tory voters is much harder but much more important. We could scrape over the finishing line with Labour voters plus some ex-Liberals but, given the scale of the problems we'd have to deal with, we don't want to just scrape over the finishing line.

Read this interview in full here.

 

Carla Powell: Short cuts, strong men, quick fixes

“Italy would get on better without a government at all,” declares Carla Powell, who writes this week from Rome in the wake of the Italian elections, in which Silvio Berlusconi experienced a career revival (winning near 30 per cent of the vote) and the newcomer Beppe Grillo and his Five-Star Movement grabbed 26 per cent.

Powell writes of Italian voters’ historic tendencies to “crave a strong figure” and “naively believe the promises politicians make” – a mould of politics that suits Berlusconi well. Yet even the celebrated Grillo is not immune from the lure of making promises without solutions. Powell writes:

If you go further back into Italy’s political history, you can easily find examples of other charismatic figures who promised salvation and in the end delivered little or nothing. Some people are comparing the new phenomenon of Italian politics, Beppe Grillo and his Five-Star Movement, the so-called grillini, to Mussolini . . .

Grillo doesn’t stand for anything but only against everything. He wants to get rid of the existing political class that has failed and that appeals to the frustration all Italians feel as the country’s problems get worse. But unlike Mussolini or even Berlusconi, he offers no solutions, nor a willingness to take responsibility for resolving Italy’s problems. In other words, Grillo is an entirely negative phenomenon.

. . . Italy needs something and someone new. The elections failed to promote that and we face another period when the same old faces will be trying to build coalitions that cannot last, between parties that want to evade our problems rather than address them.

 

Rafael Behr: No wonder Tory ministers are off-message: not even Cameron knows what the message should be

In the Politics Column, Rafael Behr dissects the chaos in the Tory party in the aftermath of the Eastleigh by-election as senior ministers defy Cameron's moderate image and lurch towards a Ukip-inspired agenda:

Fear and blame are vast resources at a time of economic crisis but it is a duty of mature, democratic politicians not to exploit them. That doesn’t stop the Conservatives from trying. In the aftermath of the Eastleigh by-election, in which Ukip pushed the Tories into third place, ministers have been lashing out at familiar foes. Iain Duncan Smith found himself anguished afresh at the scourge of “benefit tourism”. Meanwhile, Theresa May and Chris Grayling remembered their horror at the European Convention on Human Rights and their determination one day to prise it out of British law.

A more profound problem with Tories chasing the Ukip vote is that it contradicts Cameron's new central idea, which is to present Britain as an open economy keen to compete in the "global race":

Tory MPs don’t anticipate the global race selling any better on the doorstep than “the big society”, which was the Conservative leader’s unwavering ambition before he wavered. Yet there is a deeper problem with the theme, which is that the Tory account of Britain’s economic plight, as set out before the 2010 election, was the opposite of global. It was insular and parochial. Cameron explained with lethal simplicity how Labour had spent all of the money – maxed out the credit card – and how only national belt-tightening could lead to recovery. He and George Osborne are now learning that international forces determine whether the UK economy grows or shrinks. Their problem is that a message crafted out of that insight sounds like a lame excuse for failure – the very charge that was levelled against Gordon Brown when he talked about a global crisis.

Read his column in full here.

 

In the Critics

  • A dazed and deeply confused Kate Mossman is forced to wait two hours for Justin Bieber to take the stage at the O2 (read here.)
  • Paul Morley relives the experience of listening to his first Sony Walkman on the London Underground in 1979.
  • Ryan Gilbey reviews Rufus Norris’s Broken and Robot & Frank, directed by Jake Schreier.
  • Historian Richard Overy reviews David Cannadine’s The Undivided Past: History Beyond Our Differences.
  • Jon Day reviews John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter’s Son.

And much more... Read our full "In the Critics this week" blog here.

Purchase a copy of this week's New Statesman in newsstands today, or online at: subscribe.newstatesman.com

 

 

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.