I suspect that many left-leaning Roman Catholics regard the fact that Boris Johnson is Britain’s first Catholic prime minister as more a matter of regret than pride, and certainly not “a watershed moment” for the nation’s Catholics, as Catherine Pepinster suggests (A Catholic prime minister in No 10 is a watershed moment, 11 June).
Nor was this moment entirely unpredictable. Some of the most prominent Tory Brexiters – Bill Cash, Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg – are also fellow Catholics, while the days of the Church of England being effectively the Conservative party at prayer, while Labour was seen as the preference of Irish Catholic working-class communities, have long passed. In terms of electoral allegiance, Catholics have been steadily deserting the Labour party, as they advance in educational attainment, employment income and influence among the right.
By contrast, America’s second Catholic president, Joe Biden, continues to embody traditional liberal blue-collar Democrat values – pro big government and labour unions. How these two Catholic leaders and the influences of their common faith play out over the next few years may be of enormous importance to their respective countries, and the rest of the world.
• It is symbolic of the progress made in religious tolerance that we have a Catholic prime minister. The US is ahead of us since Joe Biden is the second Catholic to hold the office of US president, after John F Kennedy 60 years ago.
During the presidential campaign of 1960, Kennedy asserted that his Catholic background would influence but not dictate the way he discharged his public duties. In a seminal speech, he said: “Whatever issue may come before me as president – on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject – I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.” We should follow Kennedy’s example: faith should inspire and influence politicians, but not dictate their policy agenda.
Trustee, Council of Christians and Jews
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