. by RAY FLEMING
IT'S a commonplace that religion and politics don't mix but Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, went some way on Monday to suggest that they can interact on certain subjects.

He praised Michael Howard's published view that there should be a cut in the legal abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks and that, if elected, he would find Parliamentary time for a debate on the subject.

Mr Blair's position has always been that the 24 weeks deadline worked in favour of women who had difficulty in making a decision earlier and that to reduce it would risk criminalising them.

Yesterday a Downing Street spokesman confirmed this as Mr Blair's view and added that abortion was “one of many issues the Cardinal mentioned and therefore it should be seen in that context.” There were two curious points in the Cardinal's statement. In endorsing Michael Howard's position, it described it as “something we can commend on the way to a full abandonment of abortion”. That is not what Mr Howard said or meant. There is no political support whatsoever for a “full abandonment of abortion” nor is there ever likely to be.

Cardinal O'Connor must know that to be true. The second, and potentially more controversial, point was this: “There has been a notion in the past that Catholics would be more in support of the Labour Party because they were working class people who felt that the Labour Party stood up for many of their needs. I'm not so sure that would be quite as true today.” And in amplification of that view the Cardinal said: “We are not going to suggest that people support one particular party.” There are constituencies in the North West, West Midlands and London where the votes of large Catholic communities could influence the result but it is more likely that today's Catholics prefer to make their minds up for themselves.

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