Saturday, 17 December 2011

Not Afraid To Say It

Even those of us who have left it can look at the Church of England, by no means only on the more partisan Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical wings, and see a body, or a series of bodies, with a record of combating moral collapse which more than bears comparison with that of the Conservative Party over the last 30 years. If “there is no such thing as society” (and yes, Margaret Thatcher really did say that), then there can be no such thing as the society that is the family, or the society that is the nation. There cannot be a “free” market generally but not in drugs, prostitution or pornography. There cannot be unrestricted global movement of goods, services or capital but not of labour. American domination is no more acceptable that European federalism. The economic decadence of the 1980s is no more acceptable that the social decadence of the 1960s.

The principle of the planned economy came down to the Attlee Government, via the Liberal Keynes and via Franklin Delano Roosevelt, from an ultraconservative Catholic, Colbert. The principle of the Welfare State came down to the Attlee Government, via the Liberals Lloyd George and Beveridge, and via the Conservative Governments of the Inter-War years, from an ultraconservative Protestant, Bismarck. Those who looked to the union-busting criminality of pirate radio, which was funded by the same Oliver Smedley who went on to fund the proto-Thatcherite Institute of Economic Affairs, were enfranchised in time for the 1970 General Election, gave victory to what they thought were the Selsdon Tories, and went on to support first the economic and then the constitutional entrenchment of their dissolute moral and social attitudes by Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Labour MPs defended Catholic schools, and thus all church-based state schools, over several successive decades. National leaders of the Social Democrats supported Christian religious instruction in the schools of Berlin. The House of Lords inflicted a cross-party defeat on Thatcher’s attempt to end such instruction here. Early Labour activists resisted schemes to abort, contracept and sterilise the working class out of existence. Upper and upper-middle-class people joined the early Labour Party precisely because their backgrounds and involvement in the Church of England made them familiar with the importance of State action against social evils, and they used their new party as a platform from which to defend Establishment against Liberal assaults.

Many Social Catholics in post-War Italy promoted Keynesianism and felt a strong affinity with the domestic policies of the Attlee Government, but they were also sceptical about NATO. Jakob Kaiser’s vision was of a German Christian Democracy that looked to British Labour for its inspiration in giving effect to Catholic Social Teaching, and which gave such effect by emphasising co-operatives, the public ownership of key industries, extensive social insurance, and the works councils later suggested in the SDP’s founding Limehouse Declaration and advocated by David Owen, while also seeking a United Germany as a bridge between East and West, allied neither to NATO nor to the Soviet Bloc. The witness of Bob Santamaria in Australia is also of crucial historical importance.

Cardinal Manning led the 1889 London dockers’ march serenaded by the Salvation Army band, and he played a pivotal role in settling that strike. When the Attlee Government legislated to regulate marriage, it simply presupposed that marriage could only ever be the union of one man and one woman. Catholic and other Labour MPs, including John Smith, fought tooth and nail against abortion and easier divorce, not least including both Thatcher’s introduction of abortion up to birth and Major’s introduction of divorce legally easier than release from a car hire contract, as well as Major’s abolition of adultery and desertion as faults in divorce cases, a recognition whereby the community at large declared its disapproval of those actions even though they were not criminal offences. Methodist and other Labour MPs, including John Smith, fought tooth and nail against deregulated drinking and gambling. John Smith was also among those who successfully organised, especially through the USDAW shop workers’ union, against Thatcher’s and Major’s attempts to destroy the special character of Sunday and of Christmas Day, delivering the only Commons defeat of Thatcher’s Premiership.

Callaghan took a strong stand against drugs while he was Home Secretary. Mary Whitehouse voted Labour from time to time, and Lord Longford’s was a lifelong Labour allegiance. The Parliamentary Labour Party voted unanimously against the Finance Bill that abolished the recognition of marriage, as such, in the taxation system. The trade unions fought numerous battles to secure paternal authority in families and communities by securing its economic base in high-waged, high-skilled, high-status male employment. Trade union banners frequently depicted Biblical scenes and characters, as well as historic landmarks geographical and chronological, including the fallen of two World Wars. The name of Margaret Thatcher is abominated in pro-life and pro-family circles, matched only by the abomination of the name of Tony Blair.

I have been told that this affinity with the glory days of Continental Christian Democracy, which itself felt such an affinity with the glory days of British Labour, is incompatible with “the Protestant Anglophone tradition”. But, especially in Germany and in Switzerland, Christian Democracy has both deep roots in Protestant as well as Catholic thought, and huge electoral support among Protestants as well as among Catholics. And looking at those English-speaking countries (a small minority of the total) presumably meant by my interlocutors, I can see only three explicitly Protestant political movements of any note. One is in Northern Ireland, and the other two are in the United States, where one of them is white and the other is black. None of them is socially liberal, to say the least. All three are in favour of public spending generous to the point of lavishness, provided that it is on their own respective constituencies; if the price of this is the same provision for certain others, who are very often Catholics, then that price is paid, if not gladly, then at least in full. All three simply presuppose the capacity of the several layers of government to do both economically social democratic and socially conservative things, identifying that as axiomatically the whole point of governmental institutions.

It was ever thus. Those very Protestant Tories, Shaftesbury and Wilberforce, used the full force of the State to stamp out abuses of the poor at home and slavery abroad, both of which are now well on the way back in this secularised age. Victorian Nonconformists used the Liberal Party to fight against opium dens and the compelling of people to work seven-day weeks, both of which have now returned in full. Temperance Methodists built the Labour Party in order to counteract brutal capitalism precisely so as to prevent a Marxist revolution, whereas the coherence of the former with the cultural aspects of the latter now reigns supreme. But that economic and social libertinism is not the Protestant Anglophone tradition, and it ought not to present itself as such.


  1. It is really annoying me that the BBC is presenting Cameron as the first PM in years, they obviously mean since 1997, who could have made this statement of the obvious.

  2. So much for the Tory Party at prayer.

  3. That one goes back to the days when, at least up to a point, it still was the Tory party.

  4. American Evangelical Protestants used to be among the most left-wing, populist people in the country. And as you point out, the African-American community has always been a bulwark of social conservatism and populist economics.

    Indeed, the pro-life movement in America used to be thick with veterans of the Civil Rights and social justice movements (most of them have now passed away).

    Socially conservative social democracy is certainly workable within the Anglophone tradition even if it is sometimes called something else.