My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected immediately. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008


In May I wrote an article for the Guardian's Comment is Free website designed to spark debate about the issues surrounding the role of religion in the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill.

Needless to say I am not and have never been anti-Catholic. I do believe that all organisations seeking to lobby Government - whether it be big business, NGOs, professional lobbyists or religious groups -should be subject to proper scrutiny and debate.

However, looking through some of the press coverage resulting from my article, I've become concerned that my views have been misrepresented. This is particularly the case in relation to Conor McGinn who has resigned his position as vice-chair of Young Labour seemingly in reaction to my comments.

In the sprit of openness, I've decided to compile a list of media articles making reference me or my original article.

With the exception of BBC Radio Ulster, none of the journalists contacted me in advance of publication to check my views.

As you'll see there are some serious misquotes - nowhere have I questioned the right of Catholics to hold public office.

I am pleased to engage in vigorous debate. But it serves no benefit to misrepresent anybody's views. Let's engage in a debate based on the facts.


20 May
Guardian Comment Is Free
‘Cardinals Sins’ published by Mary Honeyball

Cardinals' sins
Politics and piety are becoming increasingly entangled as the human fertilisation and embryology bill passes through parliament. But democracy and religion do not mix. Pious pro-life Tory MP Nadine Dorries claims her high-profile campaign to reduce the abortion limit is non-religious and non-political; according to
Sunny Hundal, she is in fact backed by Christian Concern for our Nation and the Conservative Christian Fellowship.
But it is Gordon Brown's
kowtowing to threats of resignation from three Catholic government ministers - Ruth Kelly, the transport secretary, Des Browne, the defence secretary and Paul Murphy, the Welsh secretary - that has undermined his strength. In allowing a free vote on three of the bill's most important clauses (selecting and screening embryos for diseases and "saviour siblings"; allowing the creation of hybrid embryos from animal and human cells; and obviating the need for a father in IVF treatment), the PM has failed to protect the rights of the general public, over half of whom support the three causes, according to a recent Times poll.
Notwithstanding the result of the vote tonight, Brown put the interests of the Christian few over the rights of the many. Most people obviously disagree with a Catholic morality that puts the rights of the non-extant over those of the living.
Gordon Brown's failure to stand firm flies in the face of Department of Health (DoH) advice that the bill is essential to improve the technologies for assisting human reproduction and conducting high level research into finding cures for various diseases. The DoH also stresses that the bill is necessary to maintain the UK's position as a world leader in the science of embryology. It would not help our economy if we were to lose out in the same way as the US under George Bush, where embryonic stem cell research was denied federal funding nearly eight years ago.
Brown's about-turn has led many to conclude that the government's front benches are becoming increasingly religion-led. One Times reader this week pointed out that he had never before thought about "the religion of candidates for public office" but in future may not take such an "enlightened" approach if faith is given such sway in parliamentary votes. The idea that British voters may look closely at candidates' religious affiliations when choosing their MP raises fears that the more conservative style of religious voting seen in parts of Europe may come to Britain.
The vice-like grip of Catholicism holds fast across large parts of the continent. Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland are just some of the countries in Europe that have been subjected to interference by meddling cardinals. Abortion is still outlawed in Ireland and was only recently legalised in Portugal. Anti-abortion campaigns have, almost without exception, been led from the pulpit.
Catholicism has never taken a back seat; it has always actively interfered in democratic politics. In 2006 Pope Benedict castigated Catholic politicians in Canada for voting for gay rights and Cardinal
Keith O'Brien, leader of Scotland's Catholics, is alleged to have compared same-sex relationships to paedophilia. The same Cardinal O'Brien is now accusing the human fertilisation and embryology bill of challenging "standards by which we have lived throughout our lives and by which Christians have lived for the past 2,000 years".
The European parliament has, fortunately, made a stand against some of this Christian fundamentalism. In a dramatic exercise of power in 2004, MEPs opposed the appointment of Rocco Buttiglione, nominated as a European commissioner by Silvio Berlusconi. Set to take up the justice, freedom and security portfolio, Buttiglione enraged the European parliament justice committee with his views on the role of women and his belief that homosexuality is a sin put forward during his confirmation hearings. The Italian government eventually withdrew his nomination as commissioner, due in large part to pressure from MEPs.
Given a similar opportunity, I wonder whether the Commons would have stood in the way of Ruth Kelly's appointment as minister for equality. Her strong religious beliefs obviously made her an inappropriate choice for this job, which involved standing up for the rights of homosexuals. Kelly famously refused to deny or confirm whether she thought homosexuality was a sin on Five Live in 2006.
Ruth Kelly's contention, supported by other religious politicians, that she can separate her private morals from public policy does not stand up to scrutiny. During the passage of the legislation to ban discrimination in the provision of goods and services in 2007, she is reputed to have fought hard for Catholic adoption agencies to opt out of the requirement to place children with same sex couples. When it came to the crunch, her Catholic faith won the day. Should devout Catholics such as Kelly, Browne and Murphy be allowed on the government front bench in the light of their predilection to favour the Pope's word above the government's?
Politicians are voted in to represent their electorates. People who vote for me and my colleagues expect us to further the interests of the public at large, not those of any particular religion, church, mosque, synagogue, temple or indeed any other interest group. We go against the democratic foundations of our country at our peril.

30 May
The Times Online
Faith News
NIB reporting that the vice-chair of Young Labour has resigned after particularly objecting to Mary’s language in comment is free piece.

The Catholic Herald
“Labour activist quits post over anti-Catholicism”
Quotes Conor McGinn heavily including about Mary Honeyball “This type of sectarian diatribe makes me wonder whether a prejudice we all thought was long consigned to the past is slowly re-emerging.”

6 June
John Street’s Diary
Connor (sic) McGinn…has quit his post in disgust over what he perceives as the party’s anti-Catholic stance. He was particularly upset at the suggestion from Mary Honeyball MEP that Ruth Kelly’s strong religious beliefs “…obviously made her an inappropriate choice” for the job of Communities Secretary.

13 June
Total Catholic
“Labour’s anti-Catholicism raised with PM”

16 June
New Statesman
“Whiff of anti-popery”
Written by Paul Donovan who also writes weekly columns for the Irish Post and Catholic weekly the Universe. He also contributes to the Guardian’s Comment is Free site, Tribune and the Morning Star.
Again article heavily quotes Conor McGinn and no response from Mary Honeyball was sought.
McGinn describes Honeyball's language as harking back to the days of Guy Fawkes. "Imagine substituting the words Jew or Muslim for Catholic in Mary Honeyball's comments - there would have been a furious reaction," says McGinn, whose stance resonates with several Catholic Labour MP.

Labour Home (blog)
“Is the Labour party anti-catholic?”
Is the Labour Party anti-Catholic? Conor McGinn, the vice chairman of Young Labour has resigned his post in protest at the party's alleged anti-Catholic prejudice and its hostility towards the pro-life movement.

18 June
BBC Radio Ulster
Talk Back
Debate with Conor McGinn and Mary Honeyball on the separation of religion and politics and the influence of the Catholic Church. We were contacted by the show. The researcher asked us to defend our case and we were told Conor McGinn was going to speak on the show about the reasons for his resignation whether we appeared or not.

19 June
Labour Home (blog)
“Labour MP decries Labour anti Catholicism”

20 June
“Religious persecution may drive us out of the Labour Party”
Comment piece by Conor McGinn
Cites Mary Honeyball’s comment piece as “the most vicious of recent attacks on Catholics in the Labour party”

23 June
New Statesman
“Faith and reason”
Mary Honeyball responds in a letter accusing Paul Donovan’s piece of “…misconstruing the pro-democracy message of my article…I am not anti-Catholic but anti any religion that attempts to coerce or control parliament by exploiting the religious convictions of MPs.”

Total Catholic
“Labour’s ‘anti-Catholicism’ raised with PM”
“Church’s social welfare work threatened”
Conor McGinn quoted discussing emails requesting his phone number from Mary Honeyball.

Theo’s Blog
Posting starts: “Shocked to see local MEP Mary Honeyball’s statements in her article…”

26 June
Dolphinarium (blog)
Leaked email to Prospect/Fabian Review posted on blogsite

27 June
Islington Tribune
“Activist claims Labour has anti-Catholic bias”
In the piece Conor McGinn says“ article written by Mary Honeyball MEP made his position “untenable”.”.

2 July
Political Betting online (comment)
“What Price the Gordon Comeback?”
Extract from 171st comment in response to posting: With that Catholic youth leader resigning over anto-Catholic bias ( ) and Mary Honeyball MEP writing her piece in the Guardian ( ) I think any deliberate mention of a policy issue such as the HF&E bill by Cardinal O’Brian will be a massive psychic wink to the Catholic vote that Labour is no longer their party. by Morus July 2nd, 2008 at 12:30 am

4 July
“Condemn these Catholic tastes for intimidating those who disagree”
Letter from Mary Honeyball in response to Conor McGinn’s previous comment piece.

Islington Tribune/Camden News Journal/Camden Gazette
Mary Honeyball responds with letter to “Activist claims Labour has anti-Catholic bias” article.

Theo’s Blog
“No to Da Vinci Code politics”
Article starts: “Mary Honeyball’s bizarre and illadvised crusade against Catholics in the cabinet continues apace in today’s Tribune….”

5 July
Political (article)
“Will the Catholics abandon Labour?”
“…with the
resignation letter of Conor McGinn (vice-chairman of Young Labour) claiming an ‘anti-catholic’ hostility in the party, and a recent article by Labour MEP Mary Honeyball that asked whether Catholics should be allowed to hold governmental office, there is much discussion amongst Catholics as to whether this natural loyalty to Labour is something that should be perpetuated.”

8 July
Daily Telegraph (comment piece)
Article by James MacMillan "Why Gordon Brown will lose Glasgow East". Mary Honeyball's "Cardinal Sins" article quoted out of context - "should devout Catholics such as Ruth Kelly, Des Browne, and Paul Murphy be allowed on the front bench?" The writer then infers - "we have to assume that there is no place any more for Catholics in New Labour."

The "Cardinal Sins" piece about the Embryology Bill and previous government legislation to ban discrimination in the provision of goods and services actually said, "Should devout Catholics such as Kelly, Browne and Murphy be allowed on the government front bench in the light of their predilection to favour the Pope's word above the government's?"


Morus said...

Dear Ms Honeyball,

I appear twice on your list, so thought I would respond.

You clearly feel you have been misrepresented, and that you were not consulted prior to your views being remarked upon.

My comment on Politicalbetting on the second of July doesn't make any comment on your piece, merely refers to it as context for any remarks that the Cardinal might make, that he would intend as a 'psychic wink', so I hope there is no problem there.

The article I wrote for on 5th July says that your piece 'asked whether Catholics should be allowed to hold government posts', which it did.

You may have a more nuanced position (not the front bench if hold Pope's words over government whip), but the question *asked* was precisely as I state.

In both of these cases, I do not believe I have misrepresented your views, because I don't think I have expressed either your views, or my opinion of them. I have merely noted them as part of the context of a growing perception (true or false, the perception exists) that Labour is less-close to Catholic voters than once it was.

In both cases, I ensured that I linked to your article, so that people could ascertain your views for themselves. I believe I have acted with complete transparency and impartiality as regards this debate, and am sorry if you feel otherwise.

For the record, I am not a journalist - I write for a very popular blog, but it is an unpaid hobby. I didn't contact you for your views, partly because they were not the focus of the article (the perception was the issue, and general trends in voting behaviour in Glasgow), but prinicpally because I write maybe ten thousand words a week about a range of topics, and all are commentary on political events. I don't contact the Elysee Palace when discussing Mr Sarkozy and I don't contact Downing Street to ensure that Mr Brown gets his say.

I'm afraid in the blogosphere, if you write an article, people will comment on it, rehash it, report it and discuss it, and very rarely is it practical or expected to contact the original author before doing so. The common courtesy is to link to the original article, so that the link and hit rate can be recorded by (in this case) the Guardian, which will then (I imagine) be factored into your fee for writing for them.

So, I regret that you feel somewhat aggrieved, but for my part, I believe I have upheld the letter and spirit of journalistic ethics, in spite of not being a professional member of that club.



Mary Honeyball said...


Thank you for your comment, I would like to make clear that I have never questioned the right of Catholics to hold office. I question whether members of any group (and in this instance it was Catholics) who consistently go against the government line on certain issues should be on the front bench of that government.

I was more concerned by newspaper articles than blogs which I agree abide by different rules. I published the timeline so that any body who is interested can see the entire range of the debate.

Just for the sake of clarity I was not paid any kind of fee for my comment piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free site.

All best

Morus said...


I can see what you meant, though I can also understand why your question was read the way it was.

My response would be to ask why disagreement of front benchers with the majority of the government is a problem, given that the issues are confined to those which are usually considered issues of conscience and given a free vote?

It was the refusal to uphold this convention (free votes on all readings for matters of conscience) which brought the ministers you name into conflict with the government.

If Labour wishes to do away with this convention in the interests of ideological purity within the party (something distinctly lacking in many other areas of policy over the last ten years) then it may do so, but I would suggest that for the sake of a handful of extra votes on a bill that was never going to be lost, you risk alienating literally hundreds of thousands of Catholics who have historically voted for Labour in spades.

This is political idiocy, and thus people are forced to explain it by assuming an inherent hostility to the inclusion of Catholic views within the Party. "Surely," they hypothesise, "the hostility felt towards Catholic views must be astonishingly strong for Labour to actively break Parliamentary convention in order to lose previously-loyal voters?"

You may not recognise this hostility to Catholics, and I am not yet convinced it is a feature beyond the perception that has been created, but if it is not present, then I simply cannot understand the reasons behind exacerbating this historically-tense double-allegiance that Catholic Labour MPs have felt.

I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Kind regards


Tom Griffin said...

"Should devout Catholics such as Kelly, Browne and Murphy be allowed on the government front bench in the light of their predilection to favour the Pope's word above the government's?"

I think this is the most troubling aspect of the whole article. It applies that Catholics are something less than individuals with consciences of their own.

It's precisely the reasoning that led to the penal laws which did bar Catholics from office in this country for many years.

To many people from a Catholic background, even those without strong views on the Embryology Bill, it will have sounded like the kind of pronouncement that Ian Paisley used to make.

Red Maria said...

Ms Honeyball,

I'm pleased to see that you have at last entered into the spirit of debate by replying to one of the comments on your blog.

Seeing as I've done my bit and removed your address from my blog, I hope you'll return the favour and answer my questions.

After your piece on the Guardian's website appeared, Conor McGinn contacted you expressing his disquiet. You didn't have the courtesy to reply to him. Why not?

In your letter to Tribune last week, you claimed that McGinn had "waged a sustained and personal media attack on me". You said he manufactured controversy, tried to intimidate the "enemy" and complained early and often. In your pitch to Prospect magazine you accused him of "bullyboy tactics". How, precisely, did he use bullyboy tactics? How did he manufacture controversy, try to intimidate you and how did he complain early and often? How did McGinn wage a sustained and personal media attack on you?

Various comments have been made on Labour Home and The New Statesman website impugning Conor McGinn. The poorly-worded unpunctuated English suggest the same person is responsible for both sets of comments. One suggests that he is lying, another by "Statesperson" which draws attention to the supposed friendship between Paul Donovan, author of the Statesman peice and McGinn on
23 June 2008 at 21:18 said:
"Isn't Donovan a friend of McGinn's should this have been noted it is a biased piece you could even say bigoted but that is the kind of laxzy language that causes more problems than it solves......."
This is strikingly similar to the claim made in your pitch to Prospect, which also contained a number of telltale typos, spelling errors and poor punctuation that McGinn was:
"using contacts to generate one-sided stories in NewStatesman"
Can you confirm or deny whether you or any of your staff are responsible for the comments on Labour Home and the New Statesman?

You say that your views have been misrepresented. How so?

You say that you have not questioned the right of Catholics to hold public office. But in your CiF piece you said, "Should devout Catholics such as Kelly, Browne and Murphy be allowed on the government front bench in the light of their predilection to favour the Pope's word above the government's?" Kindly explain the difference.

Are you aware of the parliamentary convention that matters concerning the beginning and end of human life are subject to a free vote?

In your view, is the Labour Party a democratic centralist party?

In your interview with Radio Ulster you said you criticised the Roman Catholic Church for opposing embryo research because "it can save lives." You added, "the research can actually greatly improve the living conditions of people who have degenerative diseases such as Parkinsons and Alzheimers." Kindly name one therapy or cure for any degenerative disease which has been derived from embryo research.

In your pitch to Prospect magazine you claimed that the Roman Catholic Church "manipulates members interests". How does it do so?

In your pitch to Prospect you said the Roman Catholic Church has a "grip" on "Parliament, media and [the] public sphere." Kindly demonstrate this grip the Roman Catholic Church has on Parliament, media and the public sphere with robust evidence.

Explain how Parliament would be rendered more "diverse and democratic", more "representative multi-culturally and more gender diverse" by barring Roman Catholics from the front bench.

Despite the sentiments you expressed you insist that you are not anti-Catholic. On your Radio Ulster interview you said you thought McGinn was "exaggerating" the problem of anti-Catholicism. Kindly provide a definition of anti-Catholicism and explain why you don't meet it.

Explain how you can represent your Roman Catholic constituents in light of your hostility to their religion and your questioning whether Roman Catholics should be allowed onto the front bench.

Do you have any concerns that you are driving people away from the Labour Party?

I look forward to reading your replies.