After John F Kennedy secured the presidential nomination of the US Democratic Party in 1960, his opponents wasted no time in framing him as the Catholic candidate, playing on ancient prejudice against adherents of the Church of Rome. He could not be trusted to act in the interests of all Citizens, because he would be under the control of the Pope. So went the dog-whistle: the distrust of the “Boston Irish” writ large.
That was one of the reasons why he chose Lyndon Johnson, a protestant, as his running mate - to take the Catholic flavour - his words - from his campaign. Anti-Catholic sentiment has, as with anti-Semitism, never really gone away: even in the UK, it is an itch that some are still prepared to scratch. And with the candidacy of Becky Long Bailey for the Labour leadership, it has been scratched by anti-Labour site The Red Roar in no style at all.
Ms Long Bailey is a Catholic, to which many will shrug and respond “so what?” But there are those still susceptible to being swayed by old mistrust, so it should have surprised no-one to read “Long-Bailey backs stricter abortion laws”. The claim hinges on one expression of personal opinion, on the question of disability. Here’s what she said.
“It is currently legal to terminate a pregnancy up to full-term on the grounds of disability while the upper limit is 24 weeks if there is no disability. I personally do not agree with this position and agree with the words of the Disability Rights Commission that ‘the context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally’”. Did you know full-term abortion can be allowed?
It’s clearly her personal opinion, and about disability rights. But to conclude that she “backs stricter abortion laws” is over-egging the pudding. Moreover, the Red Roar claim “she would ‘play her part’ in ‘ensuring that [the Catholic Church’s] views are heard’” is not supported by any context that backs up the headline claim, and the further citing of her telling “anyone who attempts to ‘procure her own miscarriage’ is committing a criminal act and subject to a jail sentence” is no more than a factual statement.
That much was bad enough, but worse was to come as supposedly rational pundits took the Red Roar on trust. Ian Dunt, normally so knowledgeable and clued-up, Retweeted the claim without further comment. Hadley Freeman sniped “Oh thank God someone is making sure ‘the Catholic Church's views are heard’ about abortion. Truly, this just what the left needs and just what women need in the 21st century. We've all been saying it!” And Zoe Williams added “I don’t get the sense that RLB is against abortion: but this does chime with the view that she will say literally anything to get out of a spot”.
One observer had to remind everyone “Guido Fawkes claimed RLB's husband was a Multi-Millionaire Director. Turned out it wasn't true. Now a blog called Red Roar claims RLB wants restricting the law on abortion. Turns out this is not true either”. Aaron Bastani added “I’ve asked for comment from [RLB’s] team re ‘Red Roar’ story, as any journalist is meant to”. And Matt Zarb Cousin was particularly severe on Ian Dunt.
“She does not, and has never, advocated for restricting the law on abortion. As a credible journalist with an actual lobby pass I’d like to think you would check your sources before spewing out bile from publications with a factional interest rather than an interest in the truth”. As with JFK, now with RLB. The Catholic scare - it’s always out there.
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