By Mike Kane
The Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, said that power was a gift from God.
Although we see many abuses of power in the world around us today, we must remember that power, guided by faith, can be an immense force for good. We are all the vehicle for God’s will and it is up to us to show the inherent goodness of that power.
Many of us are called to participate in the political life of our nation, both locally and nationally. It is the job of the political parties to foster that participation for the common good. A role all parties should, and could, be doing better.
With that in mind, seven of my Labour parliamentary colleagues and I are proud to announce the launch of a new group: Catholics for Labour. To celebrate the launch, we will host a Mass at this year’s Labour Party conference in Brighton.
Catholics for Labour has lofty ambitions. We will not stand still or merely make observations of the world around us. Our hearts and minds are firmly focused on social justice; guided by the teaching of the Catholic faith we will work together to actively shape that world and prepare members of the group for a life in public service. The launch will be the beginning of our journey together, so I encourage anyone interested to get in touch with me.
In learning about the creation of such a group, I’m sure many of you will have questions. Two which might instantly come to mind are: ‘Is there a place for Catholics in the Labour party?’ and ‘Why as a Catholic do I need to be active in a political party?’
These are questions I have confronted throughout my life and if I may, I’ll try to answer them both in turn.
First, I turn to look at a Catholic’s place in the Labour party. I’ve always seen my politics as inextricably tied to my faith and I truly believe there is a natural connection between Catholicism and the Labour movement. My desire to eradicate inequality, live in a truly egalitarian society and challenge injustice stems from my Catholic upbringing and I believe Labour is the only party that approaches support for vulnerable groups in a compassionate, understanding and tolerant way.
That connection can even be identified in historical events. There is no better example for me than that of Cardinal Manning. It is said that the cardinal, Archbishop of Westminster from the mid-1800s, was deeply troubled by the working conditions that unfettered free market capitalism had imposed on the men in his community. In August 1889 London’s dock workers went on strike, in a protest which destabilised the country’s economy and threatened civil unrest. Manning was struck by the peaceful nature of the protest and actively sought resolution. As a man highly respected by both sides of the argument, he was asked to mediate in the discussions. He did so expertly and a month after the dispute began the dockers’ demands were largely met and the strike ended. This was a devout Catholic leader, inspired by his faith to play an active role in industrial dispute. His actions ensured improved working conditions for some of the most vulnerable in Victorian society and can be credited as one of the reasons behind the formation of the Labour Party just a year later. This, for me, is proof there is true synergy between Catholic beliefs and the Labour movement.
While I accept that this was nearly 130 years ago, I am determined to show Catholics that there is still a significant place for them in today’s Labour party. I don’t think political parties do enough to engage people of faith and can often be guilty of treating them with contempt. What’s more, Lyndon B Johnson once famously said that the first first rule of politics is to know how to count. The bottom line here is that there are millions of Catholics in the UK and Labour will ignore them at their peril. We can and should be doing more to make Catholics feel welcome in our party and Catholics for Labour presents us with an opportunity to do just that.
The second question I turn to is ‘Why do we need to be active in politics at all?’ We all work hard, we raise families, we care for elderly relatives and we are often too busy to get involved in politics. If we’re not too busy, then many of us are often disillusioned with the political and social structures they see around them.
Of course, it must be remembered that politics is just one of the tools we use to make the world a better place. In our parishes up and down the land many of us are involved in carrying out the corporal acts of mercy, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming the stranger and visiting the sick and imprisoned. This is the lifeblood of the Catholic faith.
For example, in my own parish we recently held a listening event aimed at asylum seekers, sponsored by Shrewsbury Caritas. Having listened to their concerns we are now providing basic English lessons in the community, have set up a women’s leadership group and have a refugee worker dealing with the day-to-day problems.
Such actions affect the micro level and are vital to making our country a better place. But these corporal acts of mercy need also be dealt with at the macro level. Homelessness is on the rise, our prisons are buckling under the strain, working families are struggling to feed themselves. Engagement with politics through a local or national level is the mechanism by which we change the underlying causes of these issues. In doing so our faith in practice becomes both preventative and prescriptive.
Our Church is one of the biggest civil society institutions in the land, with a vast number of members with many talents and abilities. It should be our mission to create leaders of tomorrow, for the primary purpose of leadership is to create new leaders. That is why today I’m asking that we don’t retreat from the public realm but we embrace it and think about how we can all participate in public life.
I don’t pretend that getting involved in politics is easier for people of faith, but Colossians reminds us not to be trapped and deprived of our freedom by some second-hand empty rational philosophy based on the principles of this world, instead of Christ.
Ultimately, Catholics for Labour is a group aimed at those interested in exploring and applying our rich vein of Catholic Social Teaching to public policy – or are perhaps considering participating in public life in the future. Over the coming months Catholics for Labour will be launching a manifesto. If this appeals to you, drop me a line to register your interest.
I leave you with this. Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I hope, through this group, we can all be that change.
Catholics for Labour launch event
Catholics for Labour will be launched at 5pm on Sunday, 24th September at a Mass at St Mary Magdalen Church, Upper North Street, Brighton, BN1 3FH. This will be followed by a drinks reception.
For those wanting more information on the group, please contact:
Mike Kane MP: Tel 0161 499 7900, E: [email protected]
Mike Kane MP is supported by the following parliamentary colleagues in establishing Catholics for Labour:
David Crausby MP
Stephen Pound MP
Conor McGinn MP
Jon Cruddas MP
Andy McDonald MP
Emma Lewell-Buck MP
Keith Vaz MP
Detail from SS Robin Heritage Mural, designed and painted by Frank Creber and his sons. Photo: ©Tina Engstrom.