New ideas at Westminster – Catholic Social Teaching

Popular in Westminster: Pope Leo XIII

Popular in Westminster: Pope Leo XIII

In Britain, the ‘new’ idea now being studied, and taken up by Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is – Catholic Social Teaching, as outlined by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. This is partly in response to the banking crisis, and also in response to an awareness that recent times have shown a global tendency for the rich to grow richer and the poor to get poorer.

Three men are working together – at the behest of the British Labour Leader – to develop ‘think-tank’ projects based on Catholic Social Teaching. These are Baron Maurice Glasman, a Glasgow-born academic who was appointed to the House of Lords by Mr Milliband last year: Dr Jon Cruddas, the Member of Parliament for Dagenham, and Professor Philip Booth, economist and author of Catholic Social Teaching and the Market Economy.  Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has been brought into the conversation at several points.

Maurice Glasman, who is Jewish, believes passionately that society needs to be reconnected through concepts of ‘faith and citizenship’, and (rather like Edmund Burke) that the “small battalions” of local life, from football clubs to post offices, churches, banks, trade unions, universities and schools should have a shared sense of common citizenship. He thinks the Labour party has become “too elitist and managerial” and out of touch with ordinary people; it should respect the values of the people, for whom “family, faith and flag” were points of honour.

Jon Cruddas and Philip Booth are both Catholics: Cruddas is highly influential within the British Labour establishment and Philip Booth is a leading public intellectual (and a Fellow of Blackfriars College, Oxford).

This trio are developing policies for Ed Miliband based on the famous encyclical of Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, which identified the Church with the masses, “not only collectively, but individually”. It rejected state socialism, maintaining the primacy of the individual and the family, but also underlined the value of every person and the entitlement of every person to be a part of the public square. It affirmed that there was a “natural right” to a living wage, and declared that it was morally wrong for the rich to “enslave” the poor. Archbishop Nichols says that the social construct here is “moral”, not political; banks and other economic agencies should have a moral approach to what they do.

Ed Miliband’s mother, Marion, was saved from the Nazis by being sheltered and protected by a Polish Catholic family, and he may be more open to Catholic values because of this.

I wonder, though, if the Irish Labour Party might follow Mr Miliband in commissioning think-tank policies based on Catholic Social Teaching? Over to you, Eamon Gilmore and Ruari Quinn!