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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Reactionary Catholics finding it harder to get elected

There seems disagreement between the two leading Catholic journals as to how many MPs in Parliament now describe themselves as Catholic.

According to the Catholic Herald, the number of Catholics elected to the House of Commons has risen from 64 to 68. According to the Tablet the number has fallen from 85 to 70. The Herald says 17 of the 68 are newly elected, while the Tablet says that 20 of the newcomers are Catholic. But, significantly, both agree that religious hardliners have found it more difficult to gain selection as candidates.

Geraldine Smith, a Catholic and former Labour MP who lost the seat of Morecambe and Lunesdale to the Conservatives, said this week that in some areas Catholic would-be Labour candidates have come under pressure for their views on issues such as assisted suicide, abortion and gay adoption. This opinion was supported by Francis Davis, policy adviser to the former Communities Secretary, John Denham. He said he believed Catholics with ambitions to be Labour MPs were often less likely to be supportive of the Church’s position than Conservative Catholics.

According to the Catholic Herald, there are 40 Labour Catholic MPs, only 19 Conservative, five Lib Dems, 3 SDLP (Northern Ireland), and one Scottish Nationalist. The most senior Catholic in the Conservative Party is Patrick McLoughlin, MP for Derbyshire Dales, who has served as Opposition Chief Whip since 2005.

One of the newly elected Catholic Conservative MPs, Conor Burns (Bournemouth West), suspected the new intake reflected the fall in religious observance in society as a whole. Describing himself as “pro-life”, he said he would be disappointed if there were no opportunity to bring down the time limit for abortion in the new Parliament.

Labour MP Jim Dobbin, chairman of the all-party group of pro-life MPs, said he had failed to be selected for the seat of Rochdale in 1987 because of his pro-life views but had not encountered any problem in his present seat of Heywood and Middleton. “My view is that if you are upfront it is the best way, and they can handle it,” said Mr Dobbin, adding he was hopeful that the prolife group would be bolstered by support among the eight Muslim MPs. But, as we said last week, the eight MPs from a Muslim heritage are not necessarily going to play ball with this reactionary religious agenda, so Mr Dobbin may be disappointed.

Among the Catholic Conservatives are Therese Coffey, who won in Suffolk Coastal, and Damian Collins, who succeeded former Tory leader Michael Howard in the Folkestone and Hythe constituency. Mr Collins previously worked at M&C Saatchi advertising agency and was educated at two Benedictine institutions.

New Catholic Labour MPs include: Jack Dromey, the deputy general secretary of the union Unite (and husband of Harriet Harman, now acting leader of the Labour Party); Bridget Phillipson, 26, for Houghton and Sunderland South, the second youngest MP to be elected; Catherine McKinnell, who was educated along with seven siblings at the Sacred Heart School, Newcastle, and who won the seat of Newcastle North; and John Woodcock, Gordon Brown’s former political spokesman, who won in Barrow and Furness. Another is Gloria de Piero, 37, a former political correspondent for GMTV, who only just managed to retain Ashfield in Nottinghamshire for Labour, the hitherto safe seat of former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Chronicle has published a list of Jewish MPs in Britain's parliament. It names 24 – Conservatives 12, Labour 10 and Liberal Democrats two. But, as we’ve seen, calling someone a “Jewish MP” or a “Muslim MP” or a “Christian MP” is meaningless unless you look at the individual and what they actually believe. For instance, as we’ve seen already, David Miliband has already said that he’s an atheist from a Jewish background.

See also: Radical Islamists lose grip on London Council

Published Fri, 21 May 2010