Why the Brown Compromise is Immoral

Back in 1789 a piece of history was being made. While the French were revolting, William Wilberforce put forward the first of his bills to abolish the Slave Trade in the British Empire. Of course, the Bill was voted down, but Wilberforce continud his struggle year after year until finally Parliament agreed with him that the practices it had legalised were immoral and ungodly.

Millions around the world were set free because Wilberforce would not desist in standing by his conscience, year after year. He knew that slavery had to be opposed in a consistent and coherent manner. Today we applaud him, but Gordon Brown’s announcement yesterday implies that he was incorrect.

The compromise that Gordon Brown has given to Labour MPs is that they can vote with their conscience on the clauses of the Embryology and Human Fertilisation Bill. but when the vote comes on the 2nd and 3rd readings they will have to follow the whip. This means that when the Bill as a whole is brought to the House, Labour MPs must back it whatever the outcome of the vote on individuals sections has been. If the clause that permits the creation of "saviour siblings" passes the committee stage, they must vote for it. If the "frankenstein embryo" clause passes committee stage, they must vote for it.

What the Government is essentially saying is that MPs get one vote, and one vote only to act as their conscience dictates. After that they must accept the decision of the house, shut up their moral concerns and toe the party line.

Imagine if Wilberforce had done that. Imagine if when he had lost the vote in 1789 he had simply stopped pushing for what his conscience knew was right. He could easily have got a position in Pitt’s Cabinet if he had done that. Would we though believe today that he had any moral backbone? Would we think that he was a pioneer in the respect for the dignity of every single human life, putting what he believed to be true in front of his personal career?

No – we would have consigned him to the history bin as a man who put his political aspirations in front of his moral duty. Yet that is exactly what Gordon Brown wants his party to do. The Prime Minister wants his MPs who believe strongly on this issue to capitulate, to not be permitted to take a coherent stance on an ethical issue. What Labour MPs are being asked to do is the equivalent of Wilberforce having given up in 1789.

As Cranmer clearly shows, the issue is very simple:

So what kind of acceptable compromise is it that permits Labour’s Roman Catholic members to vote against the Bill on Tuesday but be obliged to support on Wednesday? If God opposes chimeras and fatherless children one day, he is hardly going to be displeased if, on Judgement Day, the Christians who voted in favour of the Bill yesterday adduce a neat defence tomorrow of ‘it was another day’.

How can obedience to God be so variable? A conscience vote does not change from day to day, depending on the vicissitudes of democracy. As Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has stated: ‘Catholics in politics have got to act according to their Catholic convictions’.

He did not say that this only applied on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the rest of the week is a moral free-for-all. Their yes should be yes and their no should be no. It is not a very firm belief or opinion that constitutes a ‘conviction’ one day and may be dispensed with the next simply because the votes aren’t going your way. Indeed, that is very antithesis of conviction, and contributes to the perception that MPs are shallow hypocrites, spineless dissemblers and manipulative liars.

Today, two hundred years after the Slave Trade was abolished in the Empire, a new form of human slavery is about to be enacted by Parliament. Two centuries ago we agreed that human beings did not exist simply for the use of others – now in the 21st century MPs are being asked to overturn that decision, to allow human beings to be created simply for the purpose of working for others, with no rights to their own existence or welfare.

Labour MPs need to make a decision whether they believe that issues of moral conscience should be subsumed to an atheistic secular lobby that denies the dignity and uniqueness of the individual that men and women like Wilberforce fought for. Their refusal to make such a stand will be seen by many as a capitulation to the greed of career and success. What though, does it profit a man or woman if he gains the highest position in public office, but loses his/her soul?

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