Eight Catholic Labour MPs have formed a new group to “explore and apply” Catholic social teaching to public policy. Ahead of the official launch of ‘Catholics for Labour’ at this year’s party conference in Brighton from 24 September, the eight MPs have signed a letter outlining the group’s raison d’etre: “Catholics for Labour has lofty ambitions. We are not about standing still or merely making observations of the world around us. Our hearts and minds are firmly focused on social justice and guided by the teaching of the Catholic faith we will work together to actively shape that world and prepare members for a life in public service.”
Speaking to The Tablet, organiser Mike Kane, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East and shadow schools minister said: “Our churches are some of the most powerful civil society institutions: where else would you see hundreds of people coming together on a weekly basis? In forming this new group, our core theme is participation and getting Catholics to participate in the public sphere.” The other MPs involved are Emma Lewell-Buck, Jon Cruddas, Stephen Pound, Keith Vaz, Conor McGinn, Andy McDonald and Sir David Crausby.
Mike Kane acknowledged two questions would enter peoples’ minds: ‘is there a place for Catholics in the Labour party?’ and ‘why as a Catholic do I need to be active in a political party?’ He says he has confronted such questions all his life – and looks back for inspiration to Cardinal Manning’s mediation in the London dockers’ strike in 1889: ”This was a devout Catholic leader, inspired by his faith to play an active role in an industrial dispute. His actions ensured improved working conditions for some of the most vulnerable in Victorian society.”
Catholics have traditionally been among Labour’s most reliable supporters but its hold on Catholic voters has weakened, particularly in Scotland. Mike Kane had to see off a UKIP challenge to win his working class constituency in the northwest. So realpolitik sits alongside the lofty ambitions: “There are millions of Catholics in the UK and Labour will ignore them at their peril” he said. “We can and should be doing more to make Catholics feel welcome in our party and Catholics for Labour presents us with an opportunity to do just that.”
On issues where Catholic teaching is at odds with party policy, such as abortion and same sex marriage, the MP refers to the conscience clause, which allows politicians to abstain from voting in the House on matters of deeply held personal conviction. He acknowledges that the recent media furore surrounding the views expressed publicly by Catholic MP Jacob Rees-Mogg would act as a deterrent to Catholics to enter the public square: “With the reaction to his remarks you see the modern day liberal agenda becoming all persuasive. I disagree with Jacob Rees-Mogg on almost everything. However to attack his religious faith is unacceptable.” Catholics for Labour intends to provide mentoring and resources for people interested in getting involved in politics: “I want to create a safe space for Catholics to participate in public life.”
Mike Kane is keen to push back against the idea that traditional religious values are becoming incompatible with the modern left. But he does try to keep the emphasis on social justice and promises forthcoming campaigns on issues such as zero hours contracts.
PICTURE: Mike Kane MP ©Twitter