From a Political Correspondent 0NE of the most Surprising aspects of the recent increase in grants to Church schools has been the attitude of the Liberal Party, for so long the political expression of the Nonconformist conscience.
First of all we had Mr. Clement Davies, the elder statesman of the Liberals in the House of Commons, giving his blessing to the new Education Bill, even though only four days before leading Free Churchmen had voiced their disquiet at length in the correspondence columns of "The Times."
And now a recent issue of the "Liberal News," the party's official organ, takes up over half its back page with an article by its editor confirming the party's official approval of this new departure.
Taking its stand on "one of the three fundamental claims out of which Liberalism in this country took its birth"—namely religious freedom—the article points out that this involves not merely freedom for every man and woman to practise themselves the religion that seems to them to be true, but further to the freedom to teach it, which in turn entails freedom for parents to choose the form of their children's education.
The article even suggests that it was dire necessity that drove the Nonconformists to accept the "agreed syllabus" under which religious instruction is given in State schools. It says:
"We may well suspect that it was necessity rather than choice which first induced other Protestant Nonconformists [other than the Quakers, that is] to accept a somewhat neutralised day-to-day religious instruction for their children. They did not see any economic possibility of providing their own distinctive kinds on a sufficient scale."
The clue to this change in the Liberal Party's attitude is to be found in the subtitle of the "Liberal News": "The Organ of the Only Progressive NonSocialist Party."
Driven out from their former
position as the radical leftwing party of reform by the development of , the Labour Party, the Liberals have been forced to discover a viable policy which would be sufficiently distinct from the Butskellism shared to a large extent by the moderate wings of the Conservative and L ab o u r Parties and which would also provide an attractive alternative to the extremists on both sides, representing full-blooded Capitalism and Socialism respectively.
Now the only possible solution to this dilemma is the adoption of Catholic social principles. Belloc, disgusted by the blatant plutocracy of his day and equally by the Socialist alternative, pointed this out half a century ago.
Thus the Liberals — and it is almost completely certain that they are unaware of it — are finding themselves becoming more and more the political expression of Catholic social teaching with a distributist flavour. Hence their demands for the spread of ownership. and hence also their swing towards a more Catholic attitude towards the question of education with its emphasis on the primacy of the parent's wishes.