"YOU are like a prophet confronting false myths and schemes.”

Thus spake his Holiness the Pope in the Sistine Chapel when he paid homage to the socialist realist filmmaker Ken Loach, at a gathering to celebrate the half-century anniversary of the Vatican’s collection of modern and contemporary art.

You could almost hear Keir Starmer ­mumbling the curses of an apostate in the background.

Loach has gone from ­darling to demon in the eyes of the Labour ­leadership, and the homage of the Vatican is unlikely to change that I have no idea if the Pontiff has ever seen Kes but if he hasn’t then I ­highly ­recommend the scene in which the ­corpulent PE teacher played by Brian Glover imagines he’s ­Bobby Charlton.

Kes remains a joyful film still fresh and funny decades after it was made.

The National: The Pope speaking to artists in the Sistine ChapelThe Pope speaking to artists in the Sistine Chapel (Image: Vatican Media)

As an altar boy who once carried the chalices at St John’s RC Church in Perth, I always erred on the side of papal ­veracity. In fact, I was brought up to believe in the now questionable concept of papal ­infallibility.

In the 1970s, when the Pope was ­impoverishing chunks of Latin America by endorsing right-wing dictators and ­renewed a ban on contraception, I began the long journey to lapsed Catholicism. You never leave, and your membership cannot easily be revoked, but I have grown up with significant doubts.

So is papal endorsement enough to ­rescue Loach’s latest endeavour, Oh, ­Jeremy Corbyn – The Big Lie, which was recently excluded from the film offerings at Glastonbury?

It is a film that the Labour leadership loathes and one that has become caught up in the barbed wire of the ­antisemitism debate. Last week, the “comedian” ­David Baddiel clumsily turned on ­historic ­Catholicism for daring to celebrate Loach’s work.

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Call me an old Fenian if you must, but the Pope’s anointing of the film-maker was a benign lifetime achievement award, not an invitation to rake over the hot coals of who killed Jesus.

What interests me more is that Loach is at ecumenical odds with Starmer who would rather purge his ultra-new Labour Party of left-wing crusties like Loach.

I worry for the Labour Party, as they chase the disenchanted voters of the north and midlands of England.

Such is their pursuit of establishment ­acceptability and media endorsement that they are at risk of losing their soul. It is Labour’s ­irresolvable dilemma – how to be ­electorally credible in the eyes of the morning newspapers and advancing the cause of socialism.

It is now commonplace to see Labour leaders turning up at Rupert Murdoch’s private parties. Anas Sarwar was there this time round, either by choice or by senior managerial diktat, we may ­never know.

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What seems abundantly clear is that ­ Labour have traded effective opposition for “respectability”. And by stealing an entire wardrobe of Tory clothes, they may end up cashing in their dignity too.

Ironically, as Starmer seeks approval from the establishment, there has never been a better time for Labour to rage against a centrepiece of Tory ideology –privatisation. Last week alone there were boundless examples of the failures of private enterprise.

England’s rail franchises have been a catastrophic failure, which Ben Elton so ably demonstrated in a Channel 4 ­polemic still available to watch on demand.

Worse still is the scandal of Thames ­Water, a corporate failure which ­supposedly provides drinking water and waste water services to 15 million ­customers in London and the southeast of England. Unbelievably, it is ­carrying the burden of £14 billion debt yet still ­manages to handsomely reward its ­shareholders.

This is is the kind of modern corporate scandal that Loach would find ­everyday human drama within and so should ­Labour.

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Loach is a past master at ­illustrating where failed capitalism impacts on ­ordinary lives. That ability, once a ­defining feature of the Labour Party, ­especially in the early years, has withered. They now feel like a party finding peace with failed ­capitalism, fearing an almighty ­media backlash if they don’t.

Loach has become a personification of the purged, those left-wingers that have found themselves cast aside by Labour.

He recently said: “The manipulation of the rules and the straight aggression has been unbelievable: the manipulation of rules against the left, the imposition of candidates, expulsions and the fact that 200,000 people as far as we know – and probably more – have left the Labour Party under Starmer.

“It’s not even a news ­story! If ever we needed a clear example of ­manipulation by the broadcasters, there it is.”

Losing Loach has meant that Labour have also lost a remarkable creative ­spirit. One of his unique skills was casting ­ordinary working-class people, often from deprived towns or communities, to star in films that have a clear moral purpose.

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The career of Martin Compston, who starred in his debut role in Sweet Sixteen set in and around Greenock, is a recent example.

Loach’s preference for using untrained actors affords his films the opportunity to feel natural; more like a documentary than a piece of fiction.

Kes, starring first-time actor ­David ­Bradley and set in the mining ­communities in and around Barnsley, is an evergreen classic of British cinema, still much-loved by popular audiences ­today. The broad South Yorkshire accents enrich its ­realism but may actually have curtailed its success. One Hollywood ­mogul claimed at the time of its release that it would be easier to distribute a Hungarian film in America.

It was Loach’s Cathy Come Home that gave voice to the anger about ­homelessness while the ore ­recent I, Daniel Blake was a tour-de-force about the structural unfairness of the Job­seeker’s Allowance system.

Loach’s films give voice to what should be bread and butter Labour issues, until, of course, he sided with the persecuted Corbyn in an internal dispute that still haunts modern Labour.

Much as the polls show significant gains under Starmer, there is consequential doubt about Labour’s effectiveness as a campaigning machine that can mobilise the passions.

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Having extinguished the fire of the ­Momentum faction and suffered an ­estimated loss of more than 200,000 ­activists, it is far from certain that Labour will have a battalion of foot-soldiers ­stuffing ­envelopes, delivering leaflets and ­chapping on doors when the election comes round. Some constituencies ­struggle to find a credible candidate, even in areas now winnable.

The polls look good, the ­reality on the ground less so.

Although it is easily mocked by sneering mainstream columnists, activism matters.

It always has and always will. In a world where social media and ­cynical ­commentary attract the attention of the noisy minority, it is out there in the streets, on housing schemes and in ­shopping centres where visible support works best.

The National: Starmer (left) and Keir Mather, Labour candidate for SelbyStarmer (left) and Keir Mather, Labour candidate for Selby (Image: PA)

A decline in activism is a warning not only for Labour. The once self-confident SNP have lost membership to Alba and the party’s internal faults and relentless bad press have left some members beleaguered.

Alba have won over a small hardcore of independence supporters, many of whom were hard-working local activists, and they will not be easily replaced come election time.

As for Labour, it will be near impossible for Keir Starmer to revitalise the left while pursuing a policy approach that is petrified of media barons.

Starmer may not care and some of his most enthusiastic supporters claim that by ditching Loach and his grumbling ­lefties, Labour are more electable.

All the opinion polls seem to suggest that Starmer’s approach has attracted some old voters back to the fold, won over some “caring” Tories and, in Scotland, ­attracted some soft Yes supporters, but come the white heat of elections, will that be enough to compensate for what has been lost: a campaigning moral purpose?

Forgive the wandering ecumenical words, but – what shall it profit a party if it leads in the polls and loses its soul?