Dead Men Left

Friday, April 01, 2005

Pope: still not dead

Continuing a theme, Michael Howard's recent comments on abortion were damn-near instantly seized upon by the dreadful old man who heads the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. British Catholics have been long-associated with Labour votes and Labour membership, since at least the early 1920s. (Iain McLean's revisionist history of radical politics in Glasgow during this period, The Legend of Red Clydeside, makes the mobilisation of the "Catholic vote" a central part of the Labour Party's growth there.) The saintly Cardinal wished to distance his flock from such left-wingery.

In the US, one of the under-reported features of Bush's re-election was the switch of the Catholic vote, historically closely aligned to the Democrats, over to the Republicans. The US church leadership made repeated appeals for Catholics to break with their historic preferences and vote "morally". Direland has the details; the election was sufficiently close that this switch was of great importance in clinching it for Bush.

This won't happen in Britain, not least because the Catholic vote is neither large nor concentrated appropriately to swing an election. (Areas with large numbers of Catholics tend to be so solidly Labour-voting that not even the Pope himself, never mind his underlings, could make those seats change hands.) Abortion really isn't part of the political landscape here in the way the NHS or immigration are - at least, not at the moment. Moral issues just aren't salient. It is, however, indicative of a certain shifting and fracturing of established politics that church leaders are making these sorts of appeals. With both main parties losing their historic, identity-led attachments amongst the electorate, a space is emerging for new political alignments.