In the most simplistic terms, next month’s general election is a two-horse race between the Conservatives who, in the phrase of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, want to “get Brexit done”, and the Labour Party, which for the past three-and-a-half years has sought to prevent Brexit at every opportunity.
Many Catholics can surely be forgiven for seeing things somewhat differently, and casting their votes not necessarily for the party proposing the best policies for the country but for the one that has adopted those policies which are the least evil.
Some may continue to feel strongly that the value that society attaches to human life at its most vulnerable and defenceless is of a higher importance than which countries Britain chooses to trade with as a nation.
This question of priorities came to the fore last week when the Labour manifesto included a commitment to “decriminalising abortion”, potentially opening the way to abortion on demand (including on grounds of gender) up to the point of birth – a policy which the Right to Life pressure group claims would create the most extreme abortion regime anywhere in the world.
As a party policy, it represents a radical departure from how abortion was traditionally seen in Parliament. For Labour, it may no longer be a conscience issue: those MPs who dare to vote against a decriminalisation Bill could be disciplined.
Such Labour MPs would in any case be in a small minority because most prospective parliamentary candidates have been screened to make sure defenders of unborn children and parental rights don’t make it through.
Take the case of Roger Godsiff, a Labour MP for 27 years, who last month was deselected after he sided with Muslim parents who objected to a Birmingham school teaching gender ideology to children.
This is not a malady which afflicts only Labour, as days later the Liberal Democrat Party deselected Rob Flello, a Catholic opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion, because of his “values”. Lord Alton of Liverpool, a crossbench peer and a Catholic, has described the emergence of such policies and the treatment of those opposed to them as “almost tyrannical”.
“Over my years in Parliament it was always accepted that you could hold diametrically opposed views on abortion but you would respect the other person and it would be a matter of conscience how they then voted in Parliament,” said Lord Alton, a former Lib Dem MP. “Now everything is governed by party policy, diktats and de-selection. This shows a drift in completely the wrong direction.”
He continued: “In previous generations no self-respecting Labour politician would have put their name to this kind of manifesto. It would have been unthinkable. To abort a baby up to and during birth is nothing short of barbaric.”
Besides its new and extreme abortion policies, Labour makes manifesto commitments to other radical anti-life and anti-family measures, including gender change by self-declaration, the imposition of the teaching of the ideology of gender in schools and the introduction of no-fault divorce (already a Tory policy).
The Liberal Democrats’s manifesto also advocates abortion decriminalisation, but only within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, and say they would surround all abortion clinics with “buffer zones” regardless of whether there is any evidence of harassment (which would criminalise pro-life counselling and peaceful prayers outside clinics).
As part of the Liberal Democrat’s commitment to recognising “non-binary gender identities”, the party would add an “X” gender option on passports, and would make gender-neutral school uniforms compulsory. The party also proposes to enable same-sex marriages to be conducted in Church of England parishes and to decriminalise cannabis.
There is scant mention of policies of this kind within the Conservative Party manifesto, and Maria Caulfield, a Tory candidate in Lewes, still has – for now – the freedom to criticise such ideology without facing deselection. Labour’s abortion plans “are frightening and out of step with the opinion of the majority of British women,” said Miss Caulfield, a Catholic. “Rather than pursuing the world’s most extreme abortion legislation, we should be focusing on providing more support to pregnant women, and putting legal frameworks in place so no baby is aborted because of their gender.”
Just how far Catholics can trust the Conservatives remains to be seen. David Cameron’s failure to mention gay marriage in the 2010 Conservative manifesto suggests the party does not always announce its most significant policy changes at election time.
It is worth noting that the Tory Party is not pro-life. Since it came to power in 2010, government contributions to Marie Stopes International have increased, rising to £48,173,000 in 2018. (In 2006, the figure was £3,231,000.) Nor is there a willingness to confront the frantic march of the gender ideologues, even when feminists complain of the loss of women’s rights.
Such trends suggest that conscientious Catholics are no longer welcome as representatives of major political parties.