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THE TABLET


THE INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY Founded in 1840


PAPAL LESSON FOR MR MILIBAND A


ll political careers, said Enoch Powell, end in fail- ure, but they often end with all the drama of a Shakespearean tragedy too: Margaret Thatcher’s political assassination by her colleagues; Gordon Brown brought down by the fatal flaws of his own character. Ed Miliband, however, has gone one better. The story of his election as Labour leader begins with an act of sibling rivalry and fratricide that is biblical in its resonance. One of the key issues in electing a leader is that of charac-


ter, and in choosing to stand against his elder brother, David, Ed Miliband has shown a ruthless streak that is necessary for leadership. He will need it as he strives to keep together a party recovering from defeat at the general election; as he attempts to slough off its Brown and Blair past to create a distinct future; as he avoids being beholden to the public-sector unions to whom he owes his leadership triumph; and tries to offer the electorate a convincing alternative to the coalition Government. But as leader of a defeated party, Ed Miliband also needs to show humility. His conference speech this week indicated that he is willing to learn lessons, admitting that in govern- ment, Labour lost its way, that it was trapped in its certainties, failed to understand fears about immigration, was cavalier about civil liberties and let debts be racked up. For all the importance of humility and ruthlessness – in other words, character – it is Mr Miliband’s vision that will count most and, at a time when Britain faces great economic chal- lenges, voters will want to hear a convincing argument on how to deal with the deficit. His conference speech on Tuesday indi- cated that, if in power, he would address the £155 billion deficit as outlined by Alistair Darling, halving it over four years, but also pushing for recovery through public works such as school building programmes, much in the way of Ed Balls. In contemporary politics, marketing is never far from a leader’s mind, and Mr Miliband has attempted this week to junk the Labour past – on Iraq, on promises about an end to boom and


bust, on tuition fees – and rebrand himself as the leader of a new generation. Yet Labour under Miliband will need to offer much more than this. The Leader of the Opposition has a key role to play in British democracy, rigorously challenging the Government. But to be a credible alternative, there has to be a counter-narrative as well. David Cameron’s Big Society idea still remains ill-defined,


yet he has captured something of the public’s desire for smaller government and for the need to give a greater role to char - ities, Churches and civic organisations in providing services. The new Labour leader edged towards offering the public some- thing different when he told the party conference in Manchester that the new generation has different values, putting commu- nity and family before long working hours. And he identified the paradox of contemporary culture: that the biggest-ever consumers of goods and services form “a generation that yearns for the things that business cannot provide”. Mr Miliband – who has already said he “doesn’t do God” –may be surprised by the way that his words overlap with Catholic teaching on virtue and the common good, and that they are mirrored by Pope Benedict’s comment in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate that, after the financial crisis, the world “needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future”. The crisis, said Pope Benedict, is also an opportunity for discern- ment “in which to shape a new vision for the future”. Mr Miliband has a mountain of challenges ahead of him as he attempts to shape Labour’s new vision. His ability to meet them will determine whether he is more than an interim leader. The giants of politics are often like trees that stunt the saplings growing in their shadows. It took the Conservatives three failed leaders before David Cameron emerged from a party still in mourning for the Thatcher/Major years. Ed Miliband has already begun trying to put clear blue water between him and the Blair/Brown duopoly. But a convincing strategy will require a lot more than this particular tactic.


REAP THE HARVEST T


he month of September has always been a time of beginnings for schoolchildren as they embark upon the new academic year. Thanks to the four-day visit of Pope Benedict, this year there is a powerful sense


that September also marked a fresh start for the Catholic Church in Britain. The visit not only enabled Catholics to see the Pope in their own country, hear his addresses and share in the liturgy with him, either in person or via television and the internet, but it appears to have renewed their confidence in themselves. The Church that was on display during those four days was a prayerful Church, one dedicated to service, a multicultural and multiracial community, and above all a joyful Church. After years of child-abuse scandals, plans for parish closures, wor- ries about priest shortages, rows over liturgy, financial difficulties and, not least, attacks by aggressive critics, British Catholics seem to have been reinvigorated by Pope Benedict. With reports from churches and cathedrals of a surge in Mass


attendance, there are definite signs of what has been dubbed a “Benedict bounce”. The task ahead is to turn the bounce into a lasting spiritual legacy. Renewed efforts should be made to welcome back lapsed Catholics or encourage those, inspired


2 | THE TABLET | 2 October 2010


by the papal visit, making tentative steps towards the Church. The coming months will also offer an opportunity for parishes to help Catholics deepen their prayer lives. While controversy in recent years has surrounded worship – the kind of music used, greater access to the Tridentine Rite, the forthcoming new English translation of the Missal – one of the most pro- found and affecting occasions during the papal visit was the vigil in Hyde Park when 80,000 people gathered together with Pope Benedict in silent prayer. Readers of this journal have written to comment on that silence and their desire for more quiet prayer in their parishes, and for times of silence to be respected during Mass. The Archbishop of Westminster, in a diocesan pastoral letter, has urged Catholics to have a greater confidence in their faith, suggesting that they should be more ready to speak about it and let it be seen through small acts such as making the Sign of the Cross. The British are traditionally a reticent lot in matters such as religion, but in the new, multicultural, multi- racial Catholic Church of Britain there may well be a renewed enthusiasm for overt devotions – indeed, for an exuberance not seen for years.


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