LabourList – what would Jesus do?


This week’s happenings on LabourList have been the source of some huffing and puffing amongst Labour bloggers – including our very own VoteRedGoGreen!

But even before Mary Honeyball came close to declaring a fatwa on God there seemed to be more tension than usual oop t’LabourList.

Rowenna Davis, LabourList’s guest editor on Monday and Tuesday, helped set the tone by sending out a cheeky email to LabourList subscribers entitled “Hi, I’m Rowenna…and Derek Draper annoys me, too”!

All good harmless fun, perhaps, and I’m sure Derek Draper doesn’t mind being the butt of a jest. After all, he must be made of tough stuff to put up with the slightly obsessive attentions of Guido Staines/Paul Fawkes.

Rowena was taking temporary stewardship of LabourList to celebrate International Women’s Day. Of course it is a pity that affirmative action needs to be taken to promote women’s voices in the Labour blogosphere, but the resulting LabourList focus on the female comrades was a welcome change. It made me wonder whether the Paintbrush collective is maybe too much of a sausage-fest.

Some of the special International Women’s Day articles were interesting, some were frankly pants. That is the beauty of equality of opportunity and demonstrates its necessity. Everyone must be encouraged to express themselves so that we can ascertain who writes the kind of genius, inspirational prose that can help stimulate debate in the Labour movement and who spouts drivel (of which we do not need any more please, thank you very much).

One LabourList piece (written by a bloke incidently) provoked the ire of Don Paskini – a blogger who does not lose his cool, but clearly does not suffer fools gladly!

It was, however, Mary Honeyball’s post that has proved the most controversial.

As a big juicy atheist I like the cut of Mary Honeyball’s jib. I’m glad that a fairly prominent Labour figure responded to Tony Blair’s recently published thoughts on the state of religion in the world. Honeyball is quite correct to point out that modern Britain is not defined by “aggressive secularism” but rather that religion still enjoys enormous privileges in public life.

I do not accept that religious ‘faith’ is distinct from other ideological beliefs and that it should be sealed off from questions and criticisms. It goes without saying that Honeyball’s post was demeaning to religion (we heathen types do not consider that an especially bad thing!), but I think it is wrong to label her views demeaning to politics.

If Honeyball had instead ranted against the malign influence of the belief-system known as Toryism over substantial portions of the electorate would that be considered demeaning to politics? What boundaries must she observe when expressing her beliefs? At what level does her standing up for her personal beliefs (atheist ones) suddenly become demeaning of politics because they might be questioning the personal beliefs (religious) of others? Another poster on LabourList this week made references to “the one true God” – should I start squealing because this vehement assertion of belief contradicts my own outlook?

And yet even as an ardent atheist I can’t help but think that Honeyball could have been more politic in her argument.

VoteRedGoGreen pointed out the considerable contributions religious figures have made to the Labour Party throughout its existence. Labour is a “moral crusade or it is nothing” – and since many people take their moral code from religious traditions it is no surprise that people of strong religious conviction have dedicated their lives to the Labour cause.

It is also true that Labour has always been a broad church of opinion (boomboom). If we Labourites are to successfully pursue common goals then we need to cooperate with people who may differ with our own views in many ways.

This is why I accept VoteRedGoGreen’s assertion that Honeyball’s language was inappropriate. We need to remember the back of the membership card: “solidarity, tolerance, and respect” is the name of the game. It is not demeaning to politics for an atheist politician to criticise religion, but it is inadvisable for a Labour figure to label the Catholic Church “an extreme Christian organisation” whilst presumably wanting Labour Catholics to support her.

I am adamant that secularism should be understood as something of value to everyone – whether religious or not. Since politics is the art of the possible, I see it as the duty of politicians such as Mary Honeyball to prioritise the promotion of secularism rather than her own personal atheism.

This means focusing on issues that progressives could feasibly agree upon – e.g. the ridiculousness of maintaining our established church, the injustices and social dangers caused by faith schools, etc. As the example of our fine comrade VoteRedGoGreed demonstrates, people from religious backgrounds can appreciate the secular as opposed to the orthodox religious position on a variety of issues. Not only is it doubtful that crude religion-bashing will bring any sudden ‘converts’ to atheism, but it is also risks making supporting secularism seem less appealing.

In conclusion: this has been a controversial week over at LabourList; I both agree and disagree simultaneously with VoteRedGoGreen and Mary Honeyball MEP; we all need to remember that ‘Unity is Strength’; can’t we all just get along?; what would Jesus do?

Captain Jako


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2 Responses to “LabourList – what would Jesus do?”

  1. alunephraim Says:

    Historically one of Labour’s strengths relative to Socialist parties in certain other countries* has been the fact that strongly religious and secular people have always been able to work together without the issue of religion dividing them or even coming up in a political context (you could actually make an argument that this, rather than anti-clericalism, is “true” secularism). And when it has been an issue, it’s tended to be on marginal issues (see Arthur Henderson’s unpopularity with more urban-centred politicians in the ’20’s especially; that was mainly because of his ardent prohibitionism rather than his devout Methodism, even though the one came directly from the other).

    *Belgium is always a good example. The date of the Socialist vote plateauing there is shockingly early and for one reason…

  2. voteredgogreen Says:

    I think I’ve clarified slightly some poorly-expressed reasoning in my reply to Harvey (comments-threads-passim). The problem wasn’t that she was attacking religion, but that she appeared to suggest that religion and the religious have no place in politics. Given a) the contribution to politics, and Labour politics in particular, that the religious have made because of their religion, and b) that I don’t think the religious lobbies on the HFE and other bills were over-represented, given special privileges, or given a generally easy ride, I think she’s talking a load of old cobblers.

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