UK paperback

To justify our conduct

Blair foreseen

A belated farewell, then, to Mr Tony “Still here, sort of” Blair, off to keep on fixing the Middle East. I thought this was a striking analysis:

He seems to have the power of convincing himself that what to me seems a glaring wrong is evidently right, and though he regrets that a crowd of men should be killed, he regards it almost as an occurrence which is not to be condemned, as if it was one of the incidents of a policy out of which he hopes for a better order of things. He even spoke of our being able to justify our conduct in the great day of account. ((Cited in John Newsinger, “Colonial Wars and Liberal Imperialism”, in David Powell & Tom Hickey (eds), Democracy: The Long Revolution (London, 2007). ))

That is John Bright writing about William Gladstone more than a century ago, on resigning from Gladstone’s government over the bombardment of Alexandria. Plus ça change.

  1. 1  Jeff Strabone  July 2, 2007, 4:23 pm 

    Perhaps the most irksome aspect of Blair’s departure was his decision to schedule his official conversion to Catholicism for a date after the end of his PMship, thereby insuring that it remains the case that Britain has still never had a Catholic PM and that the Catholic question endures to vex another generation of British government. Shame on him for cowardice, particularly in a matter that one would assume matters deeply to him.

  2. 2  Steven  July 2, 2007, 4:40 pm 

    “the Catholic question”?

  3. 3  Jeff Strabone  July 2, 2007, 7:15 pm 

    I think it’s fair to refer to ‘the Catholic question’ in British politics, particularly in quotes, which I perhaps ought to have included. According to the Act of Settlement of 1700 (Stat. 1 W. & M. c. 6. ):

    ‘Provided always and it is hereby enacted That all and every Person and Persons who shall or may take or inherit the said Crown by vertue of the Limitation of this present Act and is are or shall be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or shall profess the Popish Religion or shall marry a Papist shall be subject to such Incapacities as in such Case or Cases are by the said recited Act provided enacted and established And that every King and Queen of this Realm who shall come to and succeed in the Imperiall Crown of this Kingdom by vertue of this Act shall have the Coronation Oath administred to him her or them at their respective Coronations according to the Act of Parliament made in the First Year of the Reign of His Majesty and the said late Queen Mary intituled An Act for establishing the Coronation Oath and shall make subscribe and repeat the Declaration in the Act first above recited mentioned or referred to in the Manner and Form thereby prescribed’

    This law is still in effect. In short, any royal who becomes Catholic or marries a Catholic is barred from the throne. Although the Test Acts were repealed in the nineteenth century, no Catholic has risen to the level of prime minister. Even though Tony and Cherie Blair have raised their children Catholic, he extended the Test Acts’ legacy by delaying his official conversion until after he left office.

    Law, custom, and Blair’s cowardice all support the perception that there remains a Catholic question framed at the deepest foundations of British political institutions.

  4. 4  Christopher Tracy  July 2, 2007, 8:46 pm 

    Catholic schmatholic. A century and a half has passed since Darwin published The Origin of Species; I’m surely not alone in being creeped out by a national leader who believes in the Tooth Fairy/Santa Claus/God*

    *Delete where applicable.

  5. 5  richard  July 2, 2007, 11:34 pm 

    Life must be pretty damn creepy, then: at least in England leaders of the government have the option of professing themselves godless.

  6. 6  Steven  July 2, 2007, 11:42 pm 

    I’m afraid I can’t get very worked up about “the Catholic question” as framed by Jeff, nor can imagine a final solution to it. Whichever particular flavour of worship a PM professes to practise does not figure high on my list of things to be accounted under the rubric of “Blair’s cowardice” or its inverse – and I say that, let me add, as a great admirer of the late Cardinal Basil Hume.

  7. 7  Jeff Strabone  July 3, 2007, 12:40 am 

    Just for the record, I am not Catholic nor do I think Catholics are particularly excluded from public life in the industrialized democracies. Nor do I care whether heads of state and government profess religion or atheism.

    Blair’s case earned my contempt because there are particular historical, cultural, and legal circumstances attached to Catholic political leaders in the UK. Why else was it such a big deal that Blair chose to wait this long? If Blair is a true believer of his church, he ought to have stood up when it could have made a difference. Instead, he left that work to a future potentially closeted Catholic PM. Furthermore, as a general civil rights question, which is my only personal concern here, opportunities for public participation and leadership ought to be opened up whenever possible. He failed there as well.

    While no one who has commented so far in this comment thread cares what religion or non-religion a leader professes, I hope we agree that it ought not be so vexed a matter that a head of government has to carry on his religion in secret because of the legacies of legal prejudice. That is why it matters.

  8. 8  Steven  July 3, 2007, 1:05 am 

    Oh no, I’m very much in favour of a head of government carrying on his religion, if he has one, entirely in secret.

  9. 9  Guano  July 3, 2007, 11:22 am 

    To get back to the original subject: thanks for the interesting quote about Gladstone. Teflon didn’t exist in those days so there wasn’t a handy phrase for describing politicians whose sins didn’t stain them. It’s worth thinking more about why it would be so traumatic for our political institutions to admit what Blair has done.

  10. 10  Workshy Fop  July 4, 2007, 8:56 am 

    I agree with Steven; if our leaders could make as little reference to their religion as possible, it would please me greatly. If they could remove all traces of it from their policies, I would find that helpful also.

  11. 11  shakester  March 24, 2008, 1:23 am 

    It is easy for people who follow a religion that is not descriminated against to ask for no comments to be made on this subject.Under ANCIENT and Current laws, any other religion, or persons gaining citizenship with another religion apart from catholics could become prime minister.In the current climate of anti racism, anti sectarianism etc,etc how can our GOVERNMENT AND MONARCHY CONDONE SUCH OUTRIGHT SECTARIANISM towards THE CATHOLICS OF THIS COUNTRY.Seems anyone but catholics have rights.If the monarchy and government want credibility as leaders surely the should lead for the abolition of this outdated prejudice act of parliament.

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