The debate over Rebecca Long-Bailey's comments on abortion reveals a general discomfort with faith in politics. But progressives should welcome anyone motivated to fight for a fairer, more equal societyby Christopher Lamb / January 22, 2020 / Leave a comment
Tim Farron spent two years as leader of the Liberal Democrats fending off repeated questions about his faith.
The inquisitors, he argued, saw him as something of a “religious nutter” for his views on same-sex relationships—leading him to conclude it is impossible to be the leader of a British political party and a believing Christian.
That question is now back on the agenda. Rebecca Long-Bailey, a Labour leadership candidate and a Catholic, has come under fire after she expressed a personal view about reducing the time limits for abortions on the grounds of disability. Ironically, Long-Bailey’s position on this issue is at odds with the Church’s official teaching given she supports abortion laws (the Church is opposed to any).
The issue at stake here, however, is not policies on abortion or same sex-relationships, but freedom of conscience. What the Long-Bailey episode has revealed is a growing intolerance for any British politician to express a religiously-informed conviction which goes against the narrowly-defined canon of political consensus. And it is the supposedly more broadminded liberal-left who are saying that certain views are not welcome.
Nick Spencer, Senior Fellow for the religion and society think tank Theos, told me there is now a fault-line in liberalism between those wanting to act as referee, and those wanting to be a bouncer.
“The referee allows the different views onto the same political pitch, and occasionally has to send ‘players’ off and ban certain views. The principle is to accommodate different standpoints,” he says.
“But what we have seen too much of recently is liberalism acting like a bouncer, saying: ‘you are not allowed into public debate unless your name is ‘on the list’.’ And to be on the list you have to pass a kind of progressive test which means, broadly speaking, agreeing with my socially liberal axioms.”
It is, he pointed out, a “form of political suicide” if the liberal bouncers are ready to turn away Long-Bailey—the leading female Labour candidate with a passionate message for tackling social inequality and protecting the environment.
For decades, Catholics in Britain have been some of the most loyal Labour supporters, the stalwart activists, MPs and campaigners who have toiled across the northern constituencies, one of which Long-Bailey…