November 13, 2015 by James Crossley
In previous posts (e.g. here) I noticed that with the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader there has been a re-emergence of what we (/I) might call the Radical Bible, i.e. the Bible roughly (but unambiguously) equated with Socialism (see also this piece by Harriet Winn). This Bible has not really had a serious presence in Parliament since Tony Benn was active and, towards the end of his parliamentary career, it was, like Old Labour, on the wane. Corbyn’s allusions to the Good Samaritan in major speeches or interviews have been striking and the gist of his rhetoric could have come from Benn. But Corbyn is, of course, relatively isolated in Parliamentary Labour Party. Though not entirely…
One of the new 2015 intake of MPs, Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood), had previously worked for Corbyn. Smith is a Corbyn ally and currently Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. She is more explicit than Corbyn in her use of the Radical Bible, or, perhaps better, the Radical Jesus and in many ways echoes the classic Nonconformist radicalism of Labour and other Socialist movements which is not as prominent as it once was. In one interview, she mentions her Methodist background, the Morgan Phillips claim that the Labour movement owes more to Methodism than Marxism, and that this Methodist background makes her sceptical of ‘hero worship’ and ‘creating false idols’. We might even speculate that this iconoclasm stretches to the House of Commons itself (‘I’m not that attached to the building, I’m not that bothered about the building’), though disillusionment towards the building is not restricted to the Left of the Labour Party. Most striking in terms of contemporary political rhetoric is that she openly claims that ‘Jesus was a radical socialist’, that she is ‘inspired by someone who was the Son of God, but he was also a socialist’ and, to highlight the point, refers to Jesus ‘turning over the tables in the temple, and healing the sick, and touching lepers’ and ‘a message of peace and eradicating poverty and disease’. Until very recently, this sort of language was far more likely to be found in Occupy than Parliament. Another common feature of this sort of tradition (though also of liberal understandings more generally) is seen in her ecumenicalism (‘we live in a multicultural society of many faiths and we all rub along and that’s exactly as it should be’) as is, more tellingly perhaps, the classic critique of ecclesiastical hierarchy (‘it bothers me that we have reserved places in the House of Lords for people of a Christian faith’).
While not wanting to make predictions, Smith’s interests have long involved issues of gender and sexuality, as does her new parliamentary role, so it will be worth watching to see if and how such issues get discussed in relation to the Bible and religion.
But undoubtedly the most important thing to note about Smith is that she is, of course, from Barrow-in-Furness.