Thursday, 7 September 2017

Mogged By Reality

Jacob Rees-Mogg's career, such as it was, ended yesterday. As it should have done. But not for those reasons. He had never previously expressed any view on abortion (on which there has not been a Commons vote since Margaret Thatcher legalised it up to birth "under certain circumstances") or on same-sex marriage. Nor did he volunteer those views this time. All that he did was answer an interviewer's rather unexpected questions.

The case against Rees-Mogg is his voting record on the matters that have in fact come before the House of Commons during his time there, set in the context of his wider political associations and of how he makes his money. On those, not least from the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching, he is a moral disgrace. That is not ameliorated in any way by his hypothetical views on abortion or on same-sex marriage.

Those screeching from America that he ought to do something about the lack of parliamentary time devoted to abortion are simply naive about this country's parliamentary process. But then, they have precious little understanding of how their own country works, either. Theirs is a record of spectacular political failure. What, exactly, have they ever achieved?

They have repeatedly been reduced to pretending that patently pro-abortion politicians were somehow pro-life: John McCain, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump. It is 17 years since they managed to nominate a Presidential candidate who even purported to be against abortion, and the best that could be said about him was that, in eight years as President, he never did anything about it.

As for same-sex marriage, Trump has been in favour of it longer than the Clintons or Barack Obama. In any case, precisely as the authors of the United States Constitution intended, the Supreme Court can reserve anything it likes to itself as "constitutional", and then no politician can touch it. It did that with abortion as long ago as 1973, and it has now done the same with same-sex marriage.

The foreign policy of those who at least shout the loudest, although to no identifiable effect, on these issues needs to be seen in that light. Do they propose to impose American abortion law, and the American legal definition of marriage, on countries with predominantly Muslim populations? Or on Venezuela, where abortion is illegal except to save the life of the mother, and where the Constitution promoted by the late President Hugo Chávez specifically defines marriage as only ever the union of one man and one woman?

In Britain, legislation may have something of a role on abortion, and should certainly be supported if and when it were to be proposed, but the fact of the matter is that to try and use it as the principal instrument is, again, simply naive in a country where one in three women has had an abortion. That figure is not skewed by London or what have you. It is constant across and throughout England, Scotland and Wales. In Jacob Rees-Mogg's constituency of North East Somerset, one in three women has had at least one abortion.

Rather than an individual candidate about whom hardly anyone would ever ask, any party that had a formal policy of banning or greatly restricting abortion by legislation would lose every seat in Great Britain. Every single one. That is just a fact. In so doing, it would close the debate on abortion forever.

The same is true of any party led by someone who was openly of that view. Although checking the parliamentary records would have set them right, most people had no idea what John Smith's, or Charles Kennedy's, or Iain Duncan Smith's view on abortion was. But everyone now knows what Rees-Mogg's is. Ho, hum. Jesus told us to expect a lot worse than merely not being allowed to become Prime Minister.

At all realistically, legislative action against abortion itself needs to come at a later stage of a long process of mass education, and of legislative and other action on issues such as poverty and disability, so that far fewer women had any desire, or perceived any need, to have an abortion. By all means vote for such legislation if it happened to come up, but there would be just as many abortions, in hospitals or anywhere else, while the underlying problems remained in place. Rees-Mogg advocates, and he benefits financially from, those underlying problems.

There is far greater scope for legislative action on marriage, and indeed such action is urgently necessary. We need to give couples the right to register their marriages as bound by the divorce law that obtained before 1969, to give religious bodies the right to specify that marriages solemnised by them were likewise so bound, to extend to opposite-sex couples the right to contract civil partnerships (so that everyone who wanted to get married really did want to get married), and to remove the restriction of civil partnerships, which have never needed to be consummated, to couples who were unrelated.

But there are only more civil partnerships and same-sex marriages in the big cities because there are more people in the big cities. There is probably not a village in the country without at least one such arrangement. Any party with a policy of abolishing either, or with a Leader who was of that view, would lose every seat in Great Britain, and perhaps even in Northern Ireland, where the DUP gets away with it because it wants to keep things as they are rather than because it wants to revert to any status quo ante. Ho, hum. Jesus told us to expect a lot worse than merely not being allowed to become Prime Minister.

It should be added that the legal definition of marriage in this country has not been the Catholic one for nearly 600 years. The likes of Rees-Mogg, in their grand country houses as the only Catholics for miles and miles around, are wildly untypical of the Church in England and Wales, which remains heavily concentrated in the former industrial North and Midlands, and in other pockets of Irish immigration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, again industrial in their day and mostly urban. And that is before even mentioning Scotland.

As to how that plays out politically, look at where there are lots of Catholic schools, and then look at the election results. The point is made. Rees-Mogg is still lucky to be allowed to be a Conservative MP at all. Well into the post-War period, numerous local parties flatly refused to consider Catholic candidates. By contrast, there were parts of Scotland and the North West, in particular, where you would at least have struggled to get on, and sometimes still would, if you were not a Catholic. The party in question there was not, and is not, the Conservative Party.

Rees-Mogg has none of the old Recusant scepticism about the basically Whig Tory Party and its Hanoverian, soon to be Hanoverian-Spencer, monarchy. Not for him Auberon Waugh's suggestion that the Royal Family's wedding march be Deutschland, Deutschland über alles. Moreover, he calls to mind the New York Irish jibe against Boston's John F. Kennedy: "He never did a day of Catholic school in his life."

That Jacob Rees-Mogg will never now be Leader of the Conservative Party or Prime Minister might at least mean the end of the generation-long campaign by the Daily Telegraph and the Catholic Herald, now broadly supported even by The Universe, to make the public face of Catholicism this affected, class-revanchist little subculture. A subculture that, one might add, seems to be increasingly mixed up with the Ordinariate. Of that, however, another time.

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