Our bishops supported Labour for so long that no one will listen if they criticise the Tories

Bishop Malcolm McMahon, chairman of the Catholic Education Service, co-operated with Schools Secretary Ed Balls over the sex education Bill

This Government has now been in power for two months, and there are enough straws in the wind for the beginnings of an assessment as to how well, from a Catholic perspective, the coalition is doing. Rather well, I would have thought. I cannot help thinking how pleased Frank Longford would have been by the recent speech of the Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, pledging penal reform. He would have been especially pleased with the intention substantially to reduce the number of people banged up, as well as chagrined by the fact that it was a Labour government that had doubled their numbers since Clarke was Home Secretary himself (I once asked Frank, shortly before his death, whether he regarded himself as New Labour or Old Labour. “Oh, very Old Labour”, he said. “At my age I can’t really be anything else”). 

Back to the Government. The assumption has always been, of course, that our bishops are politically more or less on the Left and that they supported Blair in 1997 (though Archbishop Vincent Nichols rather unconvincingly denied it when he claimed that the new Prime Minister’s reference to “the common good” was taken from the bishops’ pre-election statement).

If they were indeed Blairites, the Labour government’s consistent contempt for Catholic social and moral beliefs ought surely to have brought a falling of the scales from episcopal eyes –though up to the very last they tacitly supported Ed Balls over his appalling sex education Bill, with its requirement that Catholic children should be told how to access contraception and abortion. The Bill was finally defeated by the Tories, who refused to co-operate in its passage, and so was cut short by the election.

If our bishops had resisted this grossly anti-Catholic legislation as consistently as the Tories did, they could have claimed some of the credit for its ultimate failure. But they thought Labour would succeed, so they co-operated with it. It’s a pretty shameful story: lack of principle combined with political incompetence. And now, if ever they criticise this Government, everyone will just assume they are, as usual, just supporting Labour.