We’ve argued many times here at Shiraz, that the mainstream hard-left’s traditional hostility to the EU (and its predecessors) has been ignorant, short-sighted and counter-productive. It is based upon a fundamental misconception: that British workers’ difficulties stem from Brussels rather than from capitalism itself, and that getting out of the EU would somehow, magically, remove – or, even, lessen- capitalist exploitation.
The present issue of Solidarity (paper of the AWL, the one far-left group with a consistent record of talking sense on this question), lambasts the attempts of idiots like Bob Crow, to delude our movement into imagining that there is a “left-wing” case for agitating against EU membership:
“Britain already has harsher anti-union laws and weaker social provision in most areas than the main EU states. It has resisted the Social Charter, the Working Time Directive, and the Agency Workers’ Directive. Given free rein, British governments would reverse their limited implementation of those EU provisions, and scrap other limited measures of worker protection such as TUPE.
“In the meantime, the workers’ movement would have been weakened by the nationalist demagogy accompanying EU exit – the nonsensical claims that British workers’ difficulties are due not to our capitalist bosses but to this or that official in Brussels – the replacement of worker-versus-boss agitation by Britain-versus-Brussels.
“Crow claims to set out a ‘left-wing, pro-worker case’. But when Crow, with the Socialist Party, ran a ‘No2EU’ slate in the 2009 euro-election, that slate denounced ‘the so-called freedom of movement of labour’ in the EU – in fact, the real, and welcome, freedom for workers in the EU to work and live where they wish.
“Another phrase it used to denounce EU migrant workers was ‘the social dumping of exploited foreign workers in Britain’. It was only a phraseological variant of the right-wing Ukip’s rants against Bulgarian and Rumanian workers”… (read the full article here).
But now the argument within the labour movement and Labour Party isn’t only about principles (crucial as they are): it’s also about tactics and pragmatism. With the Tories tearing themselves apart over Europe, Cameron aides denouncing the grassroots as “swivel-eyed loons” and Geoffrey Howe saying the Europe debate has reduced the party to “a new, almost farcical, low”, Miliband and Labour would have to be mad to come to the aid of the Tories by endorsing the call for a referendum on Europe.
Miliband would be well advised to say little on the subject, and watch the Tories self-destruct.
The EU, despite the unrelenting propaganda of the right wing press, is by no means as unpopular as the Tory-Ukip hard-right likes to make out. And even amongst those voters who express hostility to it, the EU ranks about 10th in their list of priorities.
So leave the swivel-eyed Tory-Ukip fanatics to it, Ed, and concentrate on jobs, housing and economic growth.
As for the fake-”democratic” argument (as touted by the Tory right, Ukip and -on the “left”- the likes of Crow and Seumas Milne) for a referendum: what’s wrong with offering all those who want to get out of Europe a real democratic choice: to vote for Ukip or the Tories at the next general election?
From the AWL’s website and their paper, Solidarity:
By Martin Thomas
Solidarity has criticised the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) on its handling of allegations of sexual harassment and then of rape brought by a young woman member of the SWP against leading SWP organiser Martin Smith.
The SWP leadership’s approach, over two years and more, was to steer as near as it could to bureaucratic brush-off. The case is not closed: the woman involved should have the option of an independent investigation by labour movement people unconnected with the SWP and with some legal qualifications.
Some on the left have attempted to “no platform” the SWP — for example, shouting down speakers on demonstrations who are SWP members. We disagree. The SWP must be confronted politically, not “no platformed”.
The Glasgow protest against the bedroom tax at Easter, several thousand strong and the largest such demonstration in Britain, was disrupted by people (mainly young women) trying to shout down an SWP speaker. Some were violently harassed by SWP stewards, who told them to “go back to their rape demo”, and attempted to get the police to remove them.
The SWP speaker was Dave Sherry, a member of the SWP Disputes Committee. We understand why people object to someone so complicit in the SWP leadership’s handling of the issue.
But shouting down SWP speakers, even Disputes Committee members, will not improve the culture of our movement, or make it more safe and welcoming for women.
In Scotland, some members or ex-members of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) have an added edge to their anger against the SWP because of memories of the destructive 2006 split in SWP, when the SWP sided with Tommy Sheridan.
At a demonstration in York on 6 April, anarchists and Maoist-Stalinists harassed SWPers and in one case spat at an SWPer. An AWL activist running for election in a Unison branch recently was denounced by some because her supporters in the election included SWPers. One union branch has voted not to affiliate to the West of Scotland anti-bedroom-tax campaign on the sole grounds that the SWP has influence in it. Some union branches have seen moves to oust SWPers from office.
The shouting-down and spitting disrupt the labour and socialist movement rather than helping it develop a better culture on issues of women’s rights and gender violence. Often, in unions, such responses will play into the hands of the right wing, which has no better attitude or record than the SWP on women’s rights. A union branch which disaffiliates from a broad campaign because of SWP influence is less, not more, able to make that campaign hospitable for women.
Some of those wanting to “no platform” the SWP learned this approach in the SWP itself, which has a long habit of trying to deal with political issues by anathemas and exclusions.
The International Socialist Group (ISG) in Scotland was formed by people who split from the SWP only in early 2011 (when the Smith scandal was already brewing: there is no evidence that the people now in the ISG did anything specially good on the issue when they were in the SWP).
The SWP’s own approach is now coming back on them. For example, the SWP and the AWL disagree on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The AWL argues that a workable and democratic settlement must recognise the rights to self-determination of both nations, Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, and must therefore be a “two states” formula (a real one, not the Israeli government’s hypocritical “two states”, meaning all power to Israel and parcellised bantustans for the Palestinians). The SWP argues that justice for the Palestinians can be achieved only by conquering Israel and subsuming its people into an Arab state.
We’ve seen the SWP, not in an over-excited outburst by some young activist but in an official letter signed by Alex Callinicos, hyping this up into an absurd claim that the AWL “supports the Israeli state’s terror against the Palestinian people”. The outrage is selective: the SWP is relaxed about cooperating with people who really do support the Chinese state’s repression of the people of Tibet. The hype serves not to give due urgency to debate, but to replace it by curses (“Zionists!” “racists!”).
The ISG writes that the way the SWP handled the scandal “replicated the culture of… rape apologism”. On the streets, that translates into broadside denunciation of SWPers as “rape apologists”.
There is a reasonable case for the labour movement and the left not accepting Martin Smith, in particular, as an organiser and a representative until some better tribunal than the SWP Disputes Committee has delivered a verdict. And, in fact, despite protesting that Smith remains “in good standing”, the SWP CC has quietly pulled him out of public organising roles.
The investigation by the SWP’s Disputes Committee, all of whose members knew Smith well, was unsatisfactory. But the wider left is even less equipped to deliver a verdict than the SWP’s Disputes Committee was. Smith, like any other similarly accused, should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Something like half the active SWP membership came out in one degree or another of opposition to the SWP Central Committee’s handling of the case.
Other SWPers backed the CC because, despite everything, they believed the Disputes Committee. Or because they were persuaded by the Central Committee’s cursing of its critics as feminists who had ceased to look to the working class, or as semi-anarchists. Such wrong attitudes do not make them “rape apologists”. Their attitudes can be changed by serious argument, not by shouting and spitting, and not by tactics which help the right wing.
The self-righteousness of the ISG does no service to women’s rights. As well as criticising the SWP, the AWL has also attempted self-examination. How would we have dealt with similar allegations in our own organisation? Even the best political positions and education programmes are no guarantee against individual abuse. Do we have strong enough safeguards against the sort of lower-grade wrongdoing which seems to have formed the background to the Smith scandal: older activists using their “prestige” in political activity for sexual advantage with young members and contacts?
Attempts to “no platform” the SWP cut against that sort of self-examination and against the rational argument — sharp and angry where necessary — by which alone the labour movement can progress.
Russian soldiers entering Germany at the end of World War Two raped as many as two million German women. In east Berlin some 100,000 women were raped, and up to 10,000 died as a result (Antony Beevor: Berlin: The Downfall). Communist Party activists across the world denied these facts or tried to explain them away. Trotskyists vehemently criticised the CPs, but they still sought to work with rank-and-file CP workers in the labour movement where there was common ground, and to re-educate them.
In 2001 the SWP openly “explained away” the Taliban’s abuse of women in Afghanistan (SW, 6 October 2001). The AWL criticised the SWP, but did not rally against the SWP in any way that could help the “bomb Afghanistan” brigade, then in full flood after the Twin Towers atrocity. We sought to discuss with and convince SWP members of the wrongness of their politics.
We should be criticising, debating with, and politically confronting the SWP in an attempt to persuade activists and clean up the culture of our movement.
From the archives:
NO ROOM FOR ASIANS? RUBBISH! NO ROOM FOR RACISM!
Many things have changed in the four decades since this 1973 “open letter” to Britain’s foremost racist agitator of the time, the Tory MP Enoch Powell, was written.
It appeared in the paper Workers’ Fight, published by what is now the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, in two of the industrial papers, for dockers and steel workers, that they also published, and in leaflets given out on demonstrations.
The labour movement was then at the peak of its strength and militancy. Within a year we would bring down the Tory Government and replace it with the Wilson Labour Government. The same chauvinist abuse, scapegoating, and hostility hurled now at immigrants from Eastern Europe was then directed at Asians and Afro-Caribbeans. Then, however, the shameless nationalism and racism, though it was very influential, came mainly from right-wing political fringes. Now it also comes from mainstream politicians and even, in a thinly-disguised form, from some on the anti-EU “left”
Powell, a leading figure in the Conservative Party, was dismissed from the Tory Shadow Cabinet by Edward Heath in 1968 because he made an inflammatory racist speech. Today Prime Minister Cameron is one of the worst chauvinist demagogues. The “Open Letter”, written by Sean Matgamna, appeared under the names of Tony Duffy, editor of Real Steel News and Harold Youd, editor of The Hook.
AN OPEN LETTER TO ENOCH POWELL
The Tory Government and the bosses it serves now desperately need all the help you can give them. We have – so far – thwarted its plans and defeated it, again and again. We have spat on its laws. And we will drive it from office before long.
WE? The working class. The men and women of all creeds and colours who do the work in Britain, who man the factories, drive the trains, clean the streets, erect the buildings, care for the sick in hospitals, build the ships and load and unload them, stoke the furnaces and dig the coal. We, the real people of Britain, the “Lower classes”, on whose backs your class stands.
Millions upon millions of workers hate and despise this Tory Government. They recognise it as their most bitter enemy, and they demand its immediate resignation.
And that’s where you crawl out of your rat hole. You see the tragedy of the Uganda Asians as another chance to whip up racialist hysteria In Britain. Wrapped in the cloak of a far-seeing ‘patriot’, a man who speaks for the ‘People’, your service to the bosses is to try to get the Tories off the hook by dividing worker against worker, white against black; to deflect the anger of the working class, to head off its discontent and to pit one part of our ranks against another, to our common injury and to the benefit of your class.
Your message is the sick message of hatred and division. In the name of averting a “national catastrophe” you want to promote a working class catastrophe — that of racial conflict. You harvest race hatred and you sow it. You have become the prophet of a race war which you do your best and worst to set alight.
After your 1968 speeches, fascists organised anti-black demonstrations, and racialist gangs took to assaulting black workers and youths – IN YOUR NAME.
That, Powell, is where you link arms with the Mosley fascists and the National Front, those sick and obscene gangs of misfits, Hitler-lovers who get their kicks from hatred of blacks and Jews, and who want to destroy the trade unions and labour movement.
That is why you are one of the most dangerous enemies of the British working class – black and white – right now. You are the carrier of a disease of racialism that could ravage the working class and cripple our ability to go on standing up to the attacks of Heath’s Government.
You are also the biggest fraud and con-man in the whole Tory party. You are a shameless, habitual, bare-faced liar. AND WE CAN PROVE IT.
YOU SAY: Immigration equals national catastrophe. Why? How? For whom? Immigrants to any healthy society are an asset and a “bonus”. They are fully grown, educated (and they are educated) and capable of working, whereas additions to the population by natural increase need years of education, care and social benefits.
You play on the fears and the insecurity of workers under capitalism. But you, Powell, are a fanatical defender of capitalism and enemy of socialism, which is the real solution to the problems of the working class.
You believe in the free market, even if it means 3 million unemployed. You care nothing for the working class or for the effects of capitalism. You are against the Trade Unions, you were a minister in a Tory government whose every anti-working class act you supported.
You are no “friend of the ordinary man”. No — you have nothing but a spiv’s contempt for working people. You have one concern only – to divide our class on the Idiotic basis of skin colour, to cripple us in the real fight.
Keeping out immigrants will not solve unemployment or any other problem: If workers listen to you they will be less able to fight unemployment. Instead of attacking its real cause they will start attacking each other.
You are not the exponent of a cure for our ills: you are an ulcerated carrier of the disease – capitalism – which afflicts British society.
YOU SAY: Britain is overcrowded. But what about the thousands who LEAVE every year?
YOU SAY: That immigrants differ in culture and background. Yes, they do. (So do the Welsh, English, Scots and Irish, and the large numbers of European workers who came here after the war.) But not nearly so much as the culture, lifestyle and values of the British workers differ from those of our British boss class.
The breadth of understanding, the real culture, even the general knowledge, of the British working class is in fact all the better, is all the richer, for the mixing. Our understanding of a common interest with workers of other countries is sharper for the experience. Our grasp of the need for INTERNATIONAL working-class solidarity is stronger for the contact.
In the Common Market the working class will only be able to defend itself by cutting across narrow nationalism and forging strong links with European trade unionists.
That’s what worries you, Powell, and your class, – as does the sight of black and white and Asian workers united on flying pickets. The working class maxim UNITY IS STRENGTH applies outside the country, as well as in it.
You SAY: The British people are denied the facts about what is happening in their country. But whose country is It, Powell? Two or three per cent of the people — those you represent — own all the substantial wealth of the country. They contribute little or nothing to the wealth of the country, to the well being of the majority of its people.
50,000 immigrants who work for just so much as one year (and they do work) will contribute more to the common wealth of the British people than will the whole gaggle of spivs and parasites that make up the ruling class during all the natural lives of a whole useless generation of them.
Black workers have more right to live in this country than all the winter-in-the-Bahamas set, all the Reggie Maudlings, the Arnold Welnstocks. the Lord Vesteys and the Enoch Powells – they have earned that right through hard work. And one day, quite soon perhaps, they will help “us” make it really OUR country by taking it out of the hands of rats like you.
In 1968 some muddled workers joined with fascists in supporting you. Since then the working class has felt its own strength, it has got a clearer picture of its real enemy now than for a long time past. It has the experience of a series of victorious struggles in common with tens of thousands of black and Asian workers.
Many militants must and will rally to protect our black brothers if the fascist gangs and backward workers of ’68 once again try to use the ‘respectable’ cover you provide to attack blacks and Asians.
This time working class militants, black and white, can create defence groups to drive your fascist followers back into the sewers from which you encourage them to emerge. If they don’t, they are allowing you, Powell, and your class, to inflict a wound on the working class which can turn septic.
With all our hearts we, working class militants from the port and steel industries, pledge ourselves to fight to root out, and to wipe out, the racialist poison you represent for our class.
The black workers are our brothers in the struggle of the working class. You, Powell, contemptible gutter-rat that you are, are one of the most diseased representatives of everything we are struggling against.
Adapted by JD from Workers Liberty/Solidarity (editorial)
Ukip has seen its support surge, most recently in the 28 February Eastleigh by-election where it won 11,571 votes — 27.8%, an increase of 24%, and enough to beat the Tories into third place. A recent opinion poll puts them on 17% – well ahead of the Lib Dems and exactly 10% behind the Tories..
They have also just won a local council seat in the North West.
Last year, in the Croydon North by-election, Ukip polled 1,400 votes, an increase of 4%. In Rotherham, it won 4,648 votes (21.67%), coming second. In Middlesbrough, it also finished second with 1,990 votes (11.8%).
The trends suggest that Ukip stands a good chance of gaining the most votes of any party at next year’s European Parliament elections.
A great deal of debate has taken place in the mainstream press about whether Ukip’s recent electoral gains were just “protest votes”, rather than indicators of the party consolidating a longer-term, loyal base. If the vote was an expression of “protest”, the questions are: who was doing the protesting, what were they protesting about, and in the name of what alternative?
A study into Ukip’s vote at the 2009 European elections, where they came second to Labour and won 16.1% of the vote, argued that Ukip’s “core supporters” are “a poorer, more working-class, and more deeply discontented group who closely resemble supporters of the BNP and European radical right parties.”
The BNP would sometimes pitch “to the left”; leader Nick Griffin claimed in 2002 that his party was “the only socialist party in Britain”, and the BNP’s local work often has an explicitly “working-class” edge and includes opposition to cuts to local services. Ukip’s pitch is different.
Where the BNP might demagogically and disingenuously attack Labour for abandoning white workers, Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage focuses on attacking David Cameron for not being conservative enough. The Tories failed in Eastleigh, Farage said, because “traditional Tory voters look at Cameron and ask themselves: is he a Conservative? And they conclude, no, he is not. He is talking about gay marriage, wind turbines, unlimited immigration from India, he wants Turkey to join the EU.” The Daily Mail‘s Peter Hitchens described Ukip as “the Thatcherite Tory Party in exile”. Ukip wants compulsory “workfare” schemes for anyone on benefits, greater privatisation in education, and a part-privatised “national health insurance” model to replace the NHS.
But despite its right-wing pitch and the fact that 60% of Ukip supporters previously voted Tory (see chart at the top), figures in the Independent show that more than 40% of Ukip supporters oppose the Tories’ cap on tax credits and benefits, 43% want increased spending on public services, and more Ukip supporters than Lib Dem supporters believe that “the government is cutting too deeply”. There is a potentially unstable contradiction between Ukip’s ultra-Tory policies and the instincts of some of its working-class supporters.
It would be patronising and complacent, though, to believe that working-class people who vote Ukip do so simply to express a vague “protest” without any real understanding of or belief in what the party stands for. It is dangerous to imagine that if some left-wing electoral vehicle can replicate Ukip’s populist pitch (but from the left), we can repeat their success.
The Socialist Party-led Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) stood in the Rotherham, Middlesbrough, and Eastleigh by-elections on as “populist” a pitch as one could wish for — a lowest-common-denominator anti-cuts appeal. TUSC came out of the “No2EU” coalition, an attempt to tap into anti-EU and anti-migrant sentiment “from the left”. TUSC polled 620 votes in total across the three by-elections, less than half of Ukip’s lowest single score. Unfortunately Ukip’s vote represents a layer of anti-migrant, anti-Europe feeling amongst working-class people — which the left needs to relate to with a serious long-term political campaign based on socialist ideas and emphasising working-class unity.
Peter Woodhouse, a Ukip-voting train driver and former Labour supporter interviewed in the Guardian, said: “One of the reasons I voted for Ukip is immigration. I’m worried about the dropping of the barrier in January. I fully expect 2-4 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come over. What’s it going to be like? We’re a small island.” Sarah Holt, a shopworker, said: “They have talked to me about their policies and I agree with a lot of what they have told me. There’s going to be more and more foreigners coming in and taking everything from us. It’s diabolical.”
Although senior Tories like Kenneth Clarke have warned against a rightwards lurch in response to Ukip’s success, a cabinet committee met on 5 March to examine “wide-ranging plans” to restrict Bulgarian and Romanian immigration to Britain without breaching EU law.
But, critically, where is the Labour Party, the wider labour movement, and the left? Eastleigh was a dismal showing for Labour, finishing fourth in a by-election while in opposition for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper unveiled Labour’s new immigration policy last week, and while it is focusing on “crackdowns” on employers who exploit migrants, previous “crackdowns” have been used as cover to deport migrant workers rather than level up their conditions.
The far-left is politically hamstrung on the issue, having been desperately attempting to give a progressive gloss to anti-EU sentiment for years. The “No2EU” coalition and the (closely-related) Campaign Against Euro Federalism have even attacked “the so-called ‘free movement of labour’”, and “the social dumping of migrant labour”. A speech by the then-RMT President Alex Gordon to a 2011 conference of the “People’s Movement” (an Irish anti-EU coalition) argued for restrictions on immigration on the basis that continued “mass migration” would “feed the poison of racism and fascism”.
The left needs more than a change of approach or tactics; it needs a change of politics. Attempting to convince Ukip-supporting workers that their anti-migrant and anti-EU feeling would be better and more progressively expressed by voting for some supposedly “left” electoral formation (Respect, No2EU, TUSC, etc) than for Ukip is a dead-end.
We need to convince workers of an alternative set of ideas: that the enemy is not “Europe” but capitalist austerity, and that the answer to fears about increased migration putting a strain on jobs, wages, and services is not to restrict migration but to organise all workers — British-born and migrant — to fight for the levelling up of conditions to provide living wages, decent jobs, housing, and public services for all. The labour movement needs an emergency plan that can unite workers across Europe to fight for working-class policies against the policies of austerity.
• Sign this statement — “Equal rights for migrant workers!”
”As the church develops it faces new challenges and new questions but to say you have to change everything – I don’t agree … I prefer the word ‘repentence’ to [the word] ‘reform’” – Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor on Radio 4′s ‘Today’ Programme, 4 Mar 2013 08:25
O’Connor and C of E chum: ecumenical bigotry
Anyone who heard O’Connor’s semi-coherent, stumbling but strangely confident and supremely complacent performance on the ‘Today’ programme (BBC Radio 4) this morning, will realise that the Roman Catholic hierarchy, of which he is Britain’s leading representative, is quite simply incapable of reform when it comes to matters of sexuality. This is only of concern to atheists like myself insofar as it will perpetuate the misery being inflicted by the Church upon people round the world, and dash the hopes of many decent Catholics who are presently in despair. The immediate issue behind the interview was the de facto admission of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, an outspoken opponent of gay relationships, that he had himself engaged in gay sexual conduct.
But the hypocrisy and self-delusion of this sad man is really the least of it. The Catholic Church’s record on paedophilia, AIDS, womens’ rights and (of course) gay rights are the real issue: as interviewer John Humphrys put it to the wretched O’Connor this morning, “If the abuse that went on in the Catholic Church had gone on in a lay organisation, it would be shut down.”
The AWL’s Sean Matgamna (as ‘John O’Mahony’) wrote this open letter to O’Connor back in 2007, when O’Connor together with the C of E’s Rowan Williams, was trying to interfere in the implementation of Britiain’s sexual orientation equality legislation in order to exempt religious believers:
Dear Mr Murphy O’Connor,
Courage in “Defence of the Faith” is, I suppose, a requirement of your office. Even so, I find it hard not to admire your courage — or bare-faced cheek — in attempting to “lay down the law” to the British government and the people it governs on what legal rights gay people in the UK should have and what legal rights granted to others should be denied them.
You are joined in this by your “brothers in Christ” Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, Archbishops of Canterbury and York respectively.
What you and your Anglican brethren demand here is that in the way it treats gay people, Britain should be ruled by the laws and prejudices of your churches and by men like yourself, who are, to put things plainly, either lifelong celibates or thoroughgoing hypocrites.
You want the state to back you in forcing those who reject your religion, including gay Catholics who reject your teaching on this point, to live by your religious rules. You claim it as a right of conscience for Catholics to be legally empowered to act punitively against those who reject your rules.
In what way is what you demand anything other than a demand for Catholic religious tyranny over gay people, including gay Catholics?
In what way is it not a demand to be given the right to impose your views on others who reject them?
In what way is your demand anything other than an assertion that the rights of gay citizens are less important than the “conscientious” right of Catholics’ to deny them those rights?
The blunt truth is that here you are demanding the right to inflict on others ethical concerns and rules of behaviour which are not theirs but yours! The rights of your religious consciences must, you insist, be elevated above other people’s civil rights!
You attempt to use blackmail, threatening to close down Catholic orphanages if you don’t get your way. That, Mr. Murphy O’Connor, shows how much you really care about the children you present yourself as being so keen to protect from the contamination of love and care by gay foster parents. Doesn’t it? If you are not allowed to inflict your own narrow mindedness on others, then, as far as you are concerned, the orphan children can, so to speak, go to Hell !
It does take courage – or a well-founded brass neck! – for a leader of a minority church to claim in the name of his religious conscience the right of his own co-religionists to determine how society treats others, here gay people. You want the religious tail to wag the large, de-facto secularist dog, Mr Murphy O’Connor!
Your “courage” here is, however, not the courage I have in mind.
For a couple of decades now, your church has repeatedly been shaken by the revelations that in Catholic care homes and schools all across the Western world, children have been subjected to systematic sexual abuse by clerics.
Such scandals have broken out all across the world, from the USA to our own Pope’s Green Ireland.
In Ireland, behind the façade of a bourgeois democracy, your church ruled for most of the 20th century over what was in effect a theocracy. So much so that Ireland was — as a 1950s writer could truly say in the Maynooth seminary’s magazine — like one great monastery, where people’s lives were in every respect governed by religion. That is by priests and bishops!
There, Mr Murphy O’Connor, where people like you ruled over a country to a degree unequalled, probably, since the Middle Ages, you made life a hell for children in the schools which, with minimal “interference” from governments, you ran, and in the orphanages and reformatories where children were at the mercy of priests and nuns.
Former child victims of such sexual mistreatment by Catholic priests and nuns, in Ireland and in many other countries, have brought a vast number of court cases and won large amounts of compensation from your church for its treatment of them when they were helpless small defenceless children.
These victims of sexual abuse have had serious psychological damage done to them. They have gone and still go through adult life blighted by their mistreatment by your priests and, typically by way of saavage violence, nuns.
By priests and nuns who themselves were victims, most of them from early childhood, of religious indoctrination, which induced them to accept a way of religious living built on the repression and condemnation of some of their own most-powerful, and most volcanic, instincts.
One does not have to think their abuse of children anything other than damnable — in your sense and mine! — to feel some sympathy for such people.
The children in that vast, world-wide archipelago of Catholic orphanages and schools had their childhoods and, many of them, their entire lives, blighted by priests and nuns whose own lives were blighted by trying to live within a rule of life-long celebacy, that was both inhuman and, for large numbers of them, untenable. The children were the victims of that system.
And you Mr Murphy O’Connor, in the name of an international organisation which, in the 20th century, functioned as a sort of International Paedophiles Anonymous — in which priests sought not cure, but licence and abundant supplies of victims – you, instead of questioning in the light of such experience your own beliefs, and the fitness of your church, and of men like yourself, to lay down rules for anyone, you claim the right to penalise gay people for not accepting the rules imposed by the clergy — the rules which so many, so very many, of your clerical brethren honoured in the breach rather than in the compliance!
As Jesus said: First remove the mote from your own eye!
Mr Murphy O’Connor, you cloak your religious prejudices in hypocritical concern for the children. What exactly is it that you fear?
Of course, any properly run adoption or fostering agency will check out the suitability of all potential foster parents, be they hetero or homosexual. It will be on guard, watching for possibilities of abuse, for predatory paedophiles, for potential violence, and so on.
For sure, the record of non-Catholic as well as Catholic foster homes, in Britain and elsewhere, as places where vast number of children were abused in various ways over many decades, does not suggest complacency about such things.
Nor do such terrible incidents as social service workers in deference to “cultural pluralism”, allowing little Victoria Climbie to be murdered by a religious maniac Christian aunt. Decent people can not be satisfied with the state of things in these institutions.
But that is an entirely different issue to the one we are discussing: whether Catholics should be allowed to discriminate against gay would-be foster parents.
Apply your approach to adoption by gay people to other matters of conscience Mr Murphy O’Connor and you will get very strange results.
After all there are still people who think witches with Diabolical power exist, and that they work their malign practices on good Christian people. There are people who believe that Jews, or some Jews, do similar things and that they drink the blood of “Christian children”.
Isn’t it a violation of their religious rights and of their conscience to deny them the right to persecute and kill witches and Jews by burning them alive or by driving stakes into their hearts? The right to act in relation to such obnoxious and sinful people according to their own morals and consciences?
The religion-crazed Christian aunt of the little girl Victoria Climbie did just that with a child her religious beliefs and state of mind led her to brand as a witch possessed by demons. There are, apparently, many small, Africa-rooted Christian churches whose members commonly hold beliefs like this. Why don’t they have the right to act according to their consciences? Why are the consciences of such people less important than the consciences of Catholics like yourself?
Shouldn’t you campaign for Marie Therese Kouao (Victoria’s aunt) to be released from jail?
Why is it right to treat sinful gay people as you want and not right to treat witches in the good old witch-burning time-honoured way? Who decides where the line is drawn?
Vast numbers of women were burned as witches in Europe some hundreds of years ago. Witch-burning was, as I understand it, much more a phenomenon in early Reformation Protestant states than of Catholic Europe. (After all, episcopal urbanity has to be of some use!) But it did happen in Catholic countries too.
And, of course, notoriously, the Catholic Church burned heretics, whenever and wherever it was strong enough to do it. The Catholic church backed or helped initiate the systematic coercion by Louis XIV, after 1685, of French Protestants that almost wiped out Protestantism in France.
Rowan Williams’ and John Sentamu’s church inspired, backed and administered the savage coercion of Irish Catholics, under which your ancestors and mine were condemned to social and legal outlawry for over two hundred years.
For a certainty there are individual lunatics lurking in your Church and in that of Rowan Williams whose consciences would dictate to them that they should now do things like that. Quite apart from the fact that Rowan Williams and yourself would not agree on exactly who should be persecuted, you would not, would you, advocate as a matter of conscientious right, that Catholic (or Protestant) lunatics should be allowed to burn those they thought were witches, kill obnoxious Jews, persecute Protestant, Catholic or Jew or Muslim? Why not? Because you know better?
Because you live in more enlightened times — times in which the desire to continue behaving as your’s and Rowan William’s churches behaved in the past would brand such “traditionalists” as out and out lunatics?
Because you accept that the law that forbids, and would punish severely, such behaviour towards “witches”, Jews, “heretics”, Papists, etc, is a more enlightened law than the laws under which such things were done in the past?
The point, Mr Murphy O’Connor, is that so, too, is the law that now — since very recently, and very belatedly — forbids and would punish violence and discrimination again gay people.
It is a law to regulate citizens’ behaviour according to standards that are, I submit, greatly superior to your own prejudiced, Dark-Ages-rooted, mind and conscience on the rights of gay people.
Nor is your own Catholic morality immutable, as the things of the past which I have mentioned demonstrate.
Older Catholics and ex-Catholics will know very well that articles of faith in which they were educated, and trained to obey, on pain of the threat of damnation, ceased in the 60s and 70s to be Catholic law. Your attitude to gays is part of a complex of teachings on sexuality and procreation of which your attitude to contraception is also part. Such things as your churchs prohibition of contraception will, almost certainly, eventually be jettisoned, like so much in the past.
There are, perhaps, signs of that already.
You make the point, Mr Murphy O’Connor, obviously with Ruth Kelly in mind:
“It would be deeply regrettable if in seeking, quite properly, better to defend the rights of a particular group not to be discriminated against, a climate were to be created in which, for example, some feel free that members of the government are not free to hold public office on the grounds of their faith affiliation.”
The point here, though, is that no one has the right to be a minister, and impose their own faith-derived beliefs on those who reject them.
Let us, indeed, take the case of Ruth Kelly.
One could make a strong case in favour of Ruth Kelly. In contrast to most of the Blair Government’s ministers, Kelly, Minister for Women and Equality, and former Education Secretary, comes across as a proper and possibly likeable human being, a bright young woman who has managed to combine having a sizeable brood of kids, still young, with a high flying political career.
On one level, even Kelly’s Catholicism might be taken to recommend her. In contrast with most ministers and most MPs, her affiliations suggest that she believes in something other than her career and getting on in the world. She is a fervent, old-fashioned, practicising Catholic.
Though she approaches things differently, she probably believes, more than most Labour ministers, in some of the values socialists believe in. Catholic Popes have sometimes criticised capitalism for its predatory, cancerous cultural commercialism and its idolatry of the market.
Here too Ruth Kelly stands in favourable contrast with most of her government colleagues and New Labour MPs, whose capacity for belief and care is exhausted by their over-fervent belief in and care for their own careers.
But Ruth Kelly is a member of the militant Catholic cult, Opus Dei (the Work of God) — or as near to membership as a miserable, weak, sinful, inferior woman can get with this organisation. A member of an ultra-Catholic, semi-secret cult that originated in fascist Spain (and the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco was very much a Catholic dictatorship, just as the civil war through which that dictatorship was established, was on that side very much a Catholic crusade).
Therefore, despite all the things one might say for Ruth Kelly, it is nothing less than an outrage that Kelly should have been Minister for Education, and is now, Minister for Women and Equality, in charge of deciding how the rights accorded to gay people by the British Parliament will be implemented in particular cases such as adoption policy.
Her support for the proposal that Catholic orphanages arranging adoptions and fosterings should be exempt from the legal obligation to treat gay the same as heterosexual couples, is evidence that Kelly is unfitted by her faith to hold such positions.
And of course it isn’t just a question of Kelly’s views. The Prime Minister is a crypto-Catholic, who, like Charles the Second, will formally convert to Catholicism at the end of his career. He, most likely, shares Kelly’s doctrinal guidelines on matters like this. He, after all, appointed her.
Kelly’s successor as Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson, is not a member of Opus Dei or even a Catholic. Yet Johnson bowed to Catholic objections to imposing on Catholic and other religious schools an obligation to take in a percentage of non-believers as pupils.
Under pressure, Johnson buckled and settled for vague assurances from yourself, Mr Murphy O’Connor, and others who run the big network of Catholic schools in England.
Believing Muslims do not, as far as I know, dominate the present British government. Yet this wretched government has legislated to outlaw “incitement to religious hatred” — the freedom to criticise, denounce and mock religion — in a desire to placate Muslim leaders, for whom any sharp criticism of Islam is an insult and an outrage. (You, of course, also wanted such legislation. )
Blair and his colleagues thereby showed themselves to be as far from serious liberal thought in their approach to these matters as you yourself are.
Ruth Kelly is important not only because she is a member of Opus Dei in charge of ministries in which her own strong religious beliefs come into conflict with the liberal norms of the society presided over by the New Labour government, but because she dramatises the conflict between liberal social arrangements and serious, believing, Christians, Muslims and others.
She demonstrates how preposterous it is to have Ruth Kelly, or Tony Blair the crypto-Catholic, in government positions where conflict arises between the personal beliefs of the minister and the norms and expectations (and, here, laws!) of an advanced liberal bourgeois democracy such as that in which you and I, Mr Murphy O’Conno, live.
Yet the root problem is not the religious beliefs of individual ministers, or even the Prime Minister. The root problem is the framework of institutions, laws, norms and expectations within which British governments work.
You, Mr Murphy O’Connor, and Ruth Kelly and Tony Blair, can only play the role you are playing in this discussion because British institutions so far lag behind those of France and, even, the USA, in putting organised religion in its proper, subordinate, place — in constitutionally ruling out attempts by the religious to decree how non-believers will live in a common society with them.
Both France and the USA have experienced radical bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Britain, whose bourgeois revolution was made much earlier, in the 17th century, when social and class interests were cloaked in religious garb and expressed in terms of religious dogmas and disputations, is here, simply backward.
Ignorant, bigoted, backwards religion — which is often very anti-Catholic, to be sure — is a great force in the USA. It has given to the world the Magi gift of President George W Bush. They are busily attacking the secularist political traditions of US public life. Even so, the separation of church and state, established in America at the end of the 18th century, remains a great force for public good, despite such antics as Donald Rumsfeld, when he was secretary for defence, holding daily prayer meetings in his office.
By contrast, Britain has a State Church, the Anglican Church, whose titular head is the monarch, the British head of state.
Arguably the worst thing which the Blair government has done in its decade in office has been to encourage the growth of “faith schools”. A later generation, and maybe the present one, will be faced with the consequences of the religious segregation of children — religious segregation which in some cases coincides heavily with ethnic segregation. A terrible price may have to be paid for that.
Even so, put the case against Blair at its strongest, and it is still true that Blair has only built on and expanded existing traditions. Blair has sowed his poisoning crop in a garden that was laid out long before his time.
It is now almost forgotten — you won’t have forgotten it! — what an uproar greeted the proposal at the beginning of the 20th century for the British state to endow Catholic schools. Catholic schools which mainly catered for the children of immigrant (Irish) workers, much as Muslim schools do now.
Paradoxically, then as now, the argument for faith schools, for an intrinsically-divisive, religious-run system of education, for extending support to Catholic, and now to Muslim, schools, rested on the high ground of egalitarianism: the right of Catholics, as now of Muslims, to equal treatment.
Anglican schools were then already endowed, as now, when we discuss Muslim faith schools, thousands of Anglican, Catholic and Jewish state-funded schools already exist. For you, Mr Murphy O’Connor, that is how it should be.
It is a terrible judgement on the backwardness of Britain in such matters – a backwardness which your own involvement in this discussion loudly proclaims – that the separation of church and state was realised in the USA over two hundred years ago and is still unrealised in the UK!
For those of us who reject the idea that the obscurantist doctrines of archaic religions should have any influence in shaping the social laws through which we regulate our lives, a different conclusion follows.
The whole framework needs to be changed!
• The very possibility of any sort of privileging of the viewpoint or the representatives of any religion, the privilege you are now demanding for Catholics when you demand that they should have the right to discriminate against gay people — that possibility should, as far as possible, be eliminated.
• Religion must be made into a private matter in relation to society.
• Religious men and women like yourself must be, in your capacity of religious leaders, excluded from any role in the state system of education greater than that to which you are entitled as an individual citizen having a citizen’s rights.
• Catholic and other religious-run orphanages must become the property of society, rather than what they are now, receptacles in which young and vulnerable children are held at the mercy of religious indoctrinatiors.
• In every area of society, I repeat, the church should be separated from the state.
• The Anglican church should be disestablished, and disendowed, its property must be made public property.
• As part of the separation of church and state, all faith schools should be taken over and turned into secular state schools — schools in which no religion is taught and religion is studied only as comparative religion.
Paradoxically, this would have as one of its effects the strengthening of freedom of religion, which is and must be an inalienable right of the citizen.
Right now, the sniping and speculation about Ruth Kelly’s religion and its possible relationship to her judgements as a minister, is inevitably intrusive. It probes and prods at her and her religion. That is because, under the existing system, her private believes are a legitimate concern of people who know that Kelly’s religion – and yours, and Tony Blair’s — will play a part in the resolution of the current crisis.
Kelly does not have to have a placard around her neck proclaiming that homosexuals are evil and deservedly damned, etc, for people to know very plainly that she has such views and that her views cannot but influence her attitudes.
There will always be some areas in which the practices associated with or forbidden by some religion will, in the interests of others, place some limitations on the practitioner’s role in society.
The idea that a woman with her face veiled should teach was absurd, and the woman concerned was rightly sacked. Even though she had the right as a citizen to wear the veil, she had no right to teach while veiled.
You too, Mr Murphy O’Connor. You have and should retain the right to believe any absurdity you like. And the right to lay down any absurd rules you like for people who voluntarily accept what you, or your Pope, decree, as rules for themselves. You have no right to inflict your own opinions, to cramp and curtail the lives of others by the bigoted imposition on them of rules of living which they reject.
The absurdity of a compulsorily celibate man, part of a large world wide caste of compulsorily celibate men and women, championing the “traditional family”, and demanding sanctions against those who take a different view, is not only a crying, but also a vicious, absurdity!
So too is the whole British system of relationships between the state and the churches.
To adapt a slogan from the women’s movement:
Keep your hands off our bodies, Mr Murphy O’Connor! And our minds!