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A politician holds true to his religious beliefs – so what?

A politician holds true to his religious beliefs – so what?

It’s a strange paradox of the world we now live in. We spend all of our lives hearing about how we need more politicians who stay true to their principles and refuse to simply sway with public opinion. Then, when one pops their head above the parapet to defend their beliefs, a full-blown media witch hunt ensues.

Do I agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg that all abortion is wrong? No. Do I agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg that same sex marriage should be at the discretion of the church, not the state? No. Do I agree with the Catholic Church that gay sex is a sin? No.

So what?

I must have missed the memo whereby personal morality became a matter of state, and something that everyone is invested in. The Orwell comparison about the society we live in is an awfully tired one, but I can’t help feeling that Rees-Mogg is just the latest public figure to fall victim to the ‘Wrongthink’ that is used to tear anyone down who is contrarian in their outlook.

I didn’t see Mogg trumpeting the abolition of same sex marriage on Good Morning Britain, I also didn’t see him demanding a change to the abortion laws. He said that people are protected by UK law and indicated no interest in changing that.

So seriously, what’s the story? He isn’t pushing his opinions or morality on anybody else, so who are we to tell him what to think?

If you want to pull his voting record to shreds then go for it, it’s not hard to find plenty on welfare and benefits and on landlords, but why should someone’s personal morality be on trial if they are not trying to enforce it on others?

All this is before we even get into the fact that Catholicism has an estimated 1.2 billion followers around the world. Why shouldn’t it have a place in politics? He’s not speaking for a neo-Nazi minority. Should we ban the bible because Twitter disagrees with what it says? Great idea. And then what? The Koran opposes homosexuality so will we be removing Sadiq Khan as London Mayor for good measure?

We seem to be descending into a manic state whereby anybody who strays from approved mainstream ideology is destined to be torn to shreds.

This whole episode stinks of Tim Farron. Another man who held private beliefs that were at odds with some his party policies, and were used as a stick to beat him with.

Spare me the outrage and the sanctimony. All of the identity politics that is shoved into our faces day in day out has become utterly tedious. But it shows no sign of abating. So roll up, roll up, come and see who will be next on the crucifix of ‘public opinion’.

The progressive dilemma: Is there a route back to power?

Dan Jarvis, Chukka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Rachel Reeves, Tristram Hunt, Norman Lamb, Tim Farron, Stella Creasy

Dan Jarvis, Chukka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Rachel Reeves, Tristram Hunt, Norman Lamb, Tim Farron, Stella Creasy

Progressive politics, that is the centre-left in British politics, is currently at its lowest ebb for several decades. For many, the outlook feels uncertain, if not bleak.

It is wrong however to look to Corbyn’s surprise rise last year as a singular moment of defeat. The truth is progressive politics has been in decline for some time.

First, Cameron’s victory over Brown in 2010, following the crash of 2008, brought a formal end to the New Labour era. Failing to win that election outright, the Conservative’s real victory, however, has been in its sustained and devastating assault on Labour’s claim to economic competence, something fundamental to Blair and Brown’s success. Under fire, Labour’s progressives have too readily accepted this negative re-telling of their legacy.

Second, the SNP’s victory over progressives in Scotland, first gaining control of the Scottish Parliament in 2007 and then all but wiping out the other parties north of the border at the 2015 General Election. If there had ever been a warning sign for progressives that there was trouble afoot, the appetite for change (disguised as nationalism) that lay behind the rise of the SNP was it. It could be argued that Salmond/Sturgeon have already pulled off the shift to the left in Scottish politics that Corbyn now seeks to achieve for Labour.

Third, the near destruction of the Liberal Democrats (the other progressive party) last year. In practice, their support and local government powerbase had been in terminal decline every year since the party entered coalition and were unable to deliver the “change” they had promised. But the 2015 General Election wrenched the party of the “liberal centre” from a position of real power, and left them to a harsh fight for their very survival.

Fourth, Corbyn’s rise to the leadership of the Labour Party and determination to reclaim the party for socialism. Many progressive Labour MPs remain in parliament, but they are by and large now excluded from the front bench, increasingly alienated by the direction of policy travel and effectively powerless in the context of Corbyn’s strong grassroots mandate and support.

Moving forward, the defenestrated progressives on the backbenches of the Labour Party and in the Liberal Democrat rump now face remarkably similar and equally fundamental existential challenges.

To the individuals concerned, their fall from grace has come as a real shock and there seems to be a real struggle in both parties to identify a clear route back to power.

Asides from division – between two parties, due to minor policy differences, as a result of personal rivalries, and due to the political necessity of party loyalty in our electoral system that is preventing otherwise natural breakaway or mergers, the key reason behind this is one of substance.

Fundamentally, just as Blair embraced the market economic defined legacy of Thatcher, Cameron has arguably embraced the loosely defined social and public service reform agenda of New Labour, in effect stealing the progressive’s clothes and raison d’être.

Driven by a mixture of pragmatism, a genuine shift away from social conservatism, the real and lasting impact of coalition with a genuinely progressive party, and the existence of some powerful voices for radical reform, particularly to education and welfare, the Conservatives have to a large extent been able to offer the public evolutionary continuity rather than radical change from the Blair/Brown era.

This is further complicated by progressive recognition of the broad necessity of Conservative fiscal policy – now the key dividing line on the left. Progressives, both Labour and Liberal Democrat, have been inclined to accept the need for balanced budgets and therefore continued cuts to public expenditure (albeit with significant differences of opinion about where the cuts should fall, the role of government capital investment, and the need for some tax increases to spread the burden more fairly). For those on the resurgent left (Corbyn et al and the SNP) this simply equates to being “Tory lite”.

What was clearly lacking in the Labour leadership contest, and remains elusive, is a clear progressive alternative platform for government. And with limited scope for a coup within the Labour Party and with more than four years until the next General Election, developing one must become focal if they are to ever stand a chance of regaining the initiative and returning to power.

There is plenty of scope for new thinking. On multinational taxation, on infrastructure investment, on housing and on the environment the Tories are weak and open to challenge. There is also a clear need for a new public service reform agenda centred on the integration of services to meet the ever complex needs of individuals.

In the short term, the European referendum should provide a rousing and unifying cause for progressives to work for, allowing the building of relationships and establishment of new voices.

Ultimately whether British progressives unite in common cause SDP style, or continue to develop distinct social democratic and liberal paths in parallel, will largely be determined by whether Lib Dem electoral fortunes improve independently and how long Corbyn remains in power.

In the 1990s the Lib Dem and Labour electoral fortunes were linked, and in the future political landscape progressive interests may need to align more deeply to pave a new path back to power. But the key to this is new thinking and progressives must take the opportunity of their new found freedom to get on with it.