Wednesday 11 September 2013

Goodbye Sarah Teather (and John Bellany)

Some time over my lifetime, the Liberals went from being a party of odds and sods who were united by little else other than a desire to do the right thing at the expense of political pragmatism and eccentric sartorial tastes, to a party which has signed up to a Stalinist commitment to 'bonobos in paradise' politics (that's like 'bobos in paradise' but with added bonking).

Sarah Teather stood out like a sore thumb in this modern mess. She embodied that central Catholic commitment to the common good and the poor, with a willingness to think through what that actually meant in politics. That led her to two rebellions against her party. One was in rejecting the welfare cap on benefits. (Loud cheers.) The other was in rejecting same sex 'marriage'. (Guess how that went down...)

Her decision to vote against [same sex 'marriage'] saw her attacked by precisely the same people who had previously been lauding her independence of mind. “It was an extremely difficult choice,” she says, “and in many ways I’d rather not resurrect the whole argument again. It wasn’t one of those issues that I went into politics to tackle, but once a vote became inevitable I spent ten or 11 months weighing up the issues – of equality on the one hand and family life and what it meant for the definition of marriage on the other. I did a lot of reading and eventually I came to my conclusion, based not on any effect it would have in the short-term, but on the change it would mean for marriage over a longer period of time.”

Was she tempted to abstain? “No, because I had thought very hard about it, and finally reached a position, so to try and dodge expressing a view didn’t feel right.”

[From her interview with The Catholic Herald.]

Unsurprisingly, she has now decided to leave Parliament. She mentions in particular:

But over the last three years, what has been difficult is that policy has moved in some of the issues that ground my own personal sense of political vocation – that of working with and serving the most vulnerable members of society.
“I have disagreed with both Government and official party lines on a whole range of welfare and immigration policies, and those differences have been getting larger rather than smaller.

Teather's refusal to accept same sex 'marriage' highlights what I think is the primary motivation that most Catholics have for opposition to it. It's nothing to do with homophobia but everything to do with a vision of how important marriage is to how people, particularly those without much in the way of economic resources, survive and thrive in society. Watching John Bellany's son's film about his father last Sunday night was to be plunged into what a nightmare family breakdown can be, and how families can also function to restore damage. (For those unfamiliar with the story, it can really be summarized thus: alcoholic artistic genius leaves mother to raise three children in poverty. Children go off the rails. Parents eventually get remarried. Children (and parents) gradually pull their lives back together. One of the most poignant moments for me was when Bellany's daughter, Anya, contrasted her parents' stable churchgoing childhood with her own chaotic childhood.)

I can understand why people disagree on the shape of family life, but I can't understand why people think it doesn't matter, or that, despite much evidence to the contrary, those who support a traditional two parent, biological parent set up are clearly wrong and ill-motivated.

Anyway, that's two posts I meant to do in one! I had meant to say something about the passing of the living Scottish painter who has always meant the most to me: I can't think of a time when Bellany's odd blend of Marc Chagall and Otto Dix hasn't been pulling away at my consciousness, my not being quite sure what to make of it wrestling with a fascination. (The above is wholly inadequate but will have to do for now. Perhaps the paintings should be left to speak for him.) And I wanted to wish Sarah Teather well. She was a striking presence in British politics and her departure reflects badly not on her, but on the state we (and the Liberals) are in.

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