Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Labour - between heaven and hell

"PM denies forces of hell attack" is the BBC headline, as if it was Lucifer himself who had been spinning against the chancellor.

Well, Brown is the devil actually, if you read another online headline: "Church attacks Labour record on family values". That's Cardinal Keith O'Brien's opinion of the government after Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy strode into a religious minefield with a speech on faith last night.

Labour could conclude that if they are being attacked by both Heaven and Hell simultaneously then they must be doing something right. But these are both headaches they could do without.

Just as the Bullyhill allegations were being extinguished last night Alistair Darling appeared to have suffered one of his regular outbreaks of candour. He's a pretty unspun kind of politician, the chancellor, and he has the unerring ability to says all kinds of grown-up things that would pass without comment in the real world but inevitably get magnified, amplified and distorted in the media and political lense.

Last night, when he told Geoff Randal that the "forces of hell" had been unleashed against him when he predicted the worst global recession in 60 years, the pyre caught fire again . It's true, the dogs of war were out for him were in the shape of damning briefings from anonymous "sources" or "c***s", as Maggie Darling is said to have described them.

(By the way, I can't tell one way or another which parts of Rawnsley's books are accurate or not but I know Maggie Darling would never use the kind of language that is attributed to her. Well, maybe if pushed)

With Darling confirming another plank of the Rawnsley book Brown and Darling had to put on a Gilbert and Sullivan style kiss and make up at Prime Minister's Questions. The surest sign that two politicians are at daggers drawn is when they are chatty and animated in each other's company.

Murphy's problems on the other hand, is that he has fallen out of favour with someone very close to him - the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews.
Murphy's speech to a Labour thinktank is, at face value, a nuanced challenge to the party to take faith seriously in the future. It was an attempt from someone who has strong faith himself to get the party to engage with faith communities. Whatever the finessing that kind of message isn't going to be translated straight into print or on tv.

The usually sure-footed Secretary of State must have known which religious tripwires he would have set off in Scotland by wandering into religious territory.

The Cardinal predictably pointed out that there is no evidence of faith being at the centre of politics on issues ranging from abortion, stem cell research to civic partnerships and equality laws.

Murphy's people deny it was a masochism strategy to draw out the inevitable criticism ahead of the election campaign, or indeed that it was electioneering at all. Everything is political, particulary speeches by a Secretary of State in an election year.

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