Far from being great communicators, most politicians are quite evasive when interviewed. A politician being honest and open should be a cause for celebration. Jacob Rees-Mogg was interviewed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Wednesday. Piers Morgan received straight answers to his aggressive questioning concerning Mr Rees-Mogg’s sincerely held views on abortion and gay marriage. The interview has been incorrectly described as a ‘car crash’, destroying Mr Rees-Mogg’s chances of leading the Conservative Party and becoming the United Kingdom’s first Roman Catholic Prime Minister.
Mr Rees-Mogg is the victim of a double standard. His beliefs were denounced as being out of tune with current law and policy. However the areas of law over which he disagrees are voted on as a matter of conscience by MPs. The House of Commons holds free votes on areas of public morals, lest political parties become hostages to fortune. The double standard is that Jeremy Corbyn’s beliefs are even more out of tune with the policies of the party he leads. Using the same logic, Corbyn should not be leading his party.
Mr Rees-Mogg is not the only person who has beliefs he defends. There are a number of Muslim MPs in Parliament. As far as can be determined, none of them has been questioned about their beliefs in the same fashion as Mr Rees-Mogg, especially about their views on Sharia law and how it should be applied. None has been interviewed about the cultural origins of the gang rapes in Rotherham and elsewhere. Perhaps in the interests of balance, Piers Morgan should have a go.
This country is a democracy. However, there is a trend to exclude Catholics from democratic politics in England in a way that is not applied to any other faith. Ruth Kelly, a former Labour government minister, was also the subject of attention over whether her Roman Catholic faith affected her ability to do her job. Ruth Kelly quit the front bench to ‘spend more time with her family’, and finally left Parliament in 2010. Tony Blair felt he could convert to his wife’s faith only after he left British political life.
The role of Catholics in politics has been controversial for centuries. It was only after a law was passed in 1829 that they were permitted to sit in Parliament. The rise of nationalism in 19th Century Europe inevitably conflicted with groups whose loyalty was to Rome. France and Germany had both secularised their states by the early 20th Century. A forgotten part of the Spanish Civil War was the Red Terror, when hard-Left groups murdered thousands of Catholic priests while Franco challenged the Republican government. The Spanish Holocaust is forgotten in Britain as it clashes with the narrative dominated by the supposedly heroic role of an International Brigade doing Stalin’s dirty work for him. The Left has form on ignoring certain crimes against humanity.
While Islamophobia is condemned, anti-Catholicism is mainstream. The editors of The Guardian see nothing wrong when Suzanne Moore writes the following:
‘As usual, Rees-Mogg’s religious faith is used to excuse his appalling bigotry. He is a Catholic and this kind of fundamentalism is always anti-women, but for some reason we are to respect it. I don’t. It has no place in public life.’
Moore would never consider writing about Islamic fundamentalism in the same way. She would not attack a person for being a Muslim as she did Mr Rees-Mogg for being a Catholic. It is likely that if she did, she would lose her job, and possibly her life. She does not realise that it is she who is the bigot here.
Unlike the numerous Islamic fundamentalists given public airtime, Mr Rees-Mogg does not seek to impose his views on the populace. He also has no intention of murdering anyone who contradicts or disagrees with them. He does not defend terrorists. He is not a bigot. His beliefs, compared to those of other faiths, are benign.
Is Roman Catholicism more dangerous to public life than Islamic fundamentalism in 21st Century Britain? The negative commentators seem to believe so. Picking on Catholics in this way resembles anti-Semitism, perhaps because attackers also hold those of the Jewish faith in low regard. It is easy to attack someone whose only response will be to turn the other cheek.
Since the early 19th Century, Catholics have been permitted by law to participate in public life and debate in this country. Were all those freedoms for nothing?