By Cian Molloy - 18 September, 2017
There are 3.8 million Catholic voters in England and Wales and Labour will ignore them at its peril.
Catholic Labour MPs in Westminster are creating a new internal party organisation, Catholics for Labour, in a bid to reconnect with some of its traditional supporters.
For generations, British Catholics voted almost without doubt for the Labour Party in Westminster elections. This is partly because most of Britain’s Catholics were of Irish stock and it is said, that the history of the Irish in Britain is the history of the British working class.
However, in recent years, as Labour has championed ‘identity politics’ focussed on sexuality, race and gender, the party has alienated many of its traditional supporters, who see it as less concerned with the social, and more concerned with the personal. The trend is similar to that in the US, where traditional Catholic support for the Democratic Party is no longer a sure thing.
In a bid to reverse this trend in UK politics and to re-forge the links between Catholic Social Teaching with the Labour Party’s values, Mike Kane, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, is planning to establish the new organisation, Catholics for Labour, at the party’s annual conference, which takes place in Brighton next week.
Kane, who is the son of Irish emigrants who moved to Manchester in 1955, published an open letter this weekend, co-signed by eight other Catholic Labour MPs, setting out the aims of the new organisation, which he hopes will appeal to a wider party membership.
“There are 3.8 million Catholic voters in England and Wales,” he says. “And Labour will ignore them at its peril.”
Certainly, the English and Welsh Labour Party would do well to heed the experience of their Scottish colleagues: once 80% of Catholics in Scotland voted Labour, but that number has halved with Scottish Catholics increasingly voting for the SNP.
Without doubt, the Labour Party should try not to upset Catholics, but unfortunately their partly leader Jeremy Corbyn did that earlier this month. He was accused of ‘disrespecting the Catholic faith’ after he took communion while attending the funeral Mass of trade union offical Mary Turner at the Sacred Heart Church in London, despite the fact that he is a self-professed agnostic. Separately, in 1996, the late Cardinal Basil Hume wrote to the then Labour Party leader Tony Blair, asking him to refrain from taking Communion when attending Mass with his wife Cherie, as the then future PM was not a member of the Catholic Church.
The Catholics for Labour initiative comes just a week after a senior Catholic Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg made a public stand on his opposition to abortion in all circumstances and to gay marriage. Significantly, Rees-Mogg is seen as a possible successor to the current Tory party leader, Prime Minister Theresa May.
In the meantime, here in Ireland, there is little sign of a group of Irish Labour TDs or senators forming a group that openly identifies itself as Catholic in character.