Why Labour in UK is bidding for religious vote

The public spat between Labour’s Secretary for Scotland, Jim Murphy and the leader of Scotland’s Catholics, votesCardinal Keith O’Brien, over Labour’s apparent new respect for religion, is revealing at a number of levels.

For a start, Mr Murphy’s suggestion that Labour is the natural home for religious values is, as Cardinal O’Brien suggests, wholly at odds with their record over their time in office.

The Cardinal’s response to Mr Murphy’s suggestion contained an admirably comprehensive list of the areas in which Labour has displayed contempt for the sensibilities of religious voters, and it bears repeating.

Cardinal O’Brien said: “When introducing legislation to permit experimentation on and destruction of human embryos, the objections of the Church and other faiths were ignored.

“When introducing legislation to permit civil partnerships and same-sex adoption, the objections of the Church and other faiths were ignored. In refusing to tackle the soaring toll of abortions, the views of the Church and other faiths were ignored. Most recently, in advancing legislation which would completely and permanently undermine religious freedom, this government has taken no note whatsoever of the concerns of people of faith.”

So much for Mr Murphy’s faintly risible claim that Labour has any special claim to religious voters.

Possibly more intriguing, however, is the fact that the Scottish Secretary felt compelled to venture into this territory at all. In his speech, he said that his party’s political strategists needed to acknowledge that the religious vote was larger and more important than traditional swing voters such as “Worcester Woman” or “Motorway Man”.

In other words, Mr Murphy hasn’t suddenly had a Damascene conversion as to the value of religion. Rather, as a general election looms closer, he is realising that Labour needs every vote it can get.

Furthermore, he can see that, in his own constituency, he is under pressure from the Conservative party, whose message emphasises family values and the importance of civil society rather than the State. These messages resonate with voters of faith.

In what is likely to be a very tight election, Mr Murphy obviously feels that religious voters will play a crucial part in determining the outcome. The problem for him is that his 11th hour conversion is likely to have come too late.