If you ever want to know why politicians talk like automata, there’s your reason in a nutshell. Tom made a series of perfectly reasonable points, which anyone with a brain can see were not controversial, and someone in CCHQ or Associated press noticed it, decided it could be twisted and spun for good effect and duly did so.
Result? Tom ends up on the radio, explaining his “gaffe”. Which by all accounts he did excellently.
Wait. I can hear the voices now “What about you lot”. Indeed.
I don’t blame whatever hack decided they could have fun with this. Politics is a roughty toughty business, and if you can’t defend yourself against something like this, as Tom did so ably this morning, frankly you’re in the wrong game.
However, there issues where it is almost impossible for politicians to say something controversial, and oddly enough one happened in this mornings newspapers. The story is the rise in teenage abortions. Reading todays newspapers, one gets the sense that this bears al the hallmarks of a crisis.
You should know that I am a stalwart believer in a womans right to choose. I tend to take the Bill Clinton line that it would be best if abortion were safe, legal and rare, because every abortion is a sign of something unwanted or unexpected happening, but in the end I believe that women’s right to choose how to manage their own bodies has been good for women, good for society and good for bringing wanted, loved children into the world. You may differ and have profound philosophical and social reasons for do so. I respect those beliefs but think the’yre wrong. So I doubt we will have common ground on this topic either.
The brief facts of the “rise in teenage abortions” story are these. The rate of teenage conceptions is falling. At the same time more girls who are pregnant under 18 are choosing to abort the foetus. As a result, there are dramatic rises in the proportion of teen girls who choose to abort pregnancies.
It strikes me that this might actually be a sign that sex education strategies are helping young women make the right choices for themselves. First teen pregnancies are falling. This would appear to be straightforward good news. Looking at this statistic in isolation we should conclude that sex education strategies are working. They may need to go further, but they’re going in the right direction. Teen pregancy rates have been falling in Britain for a decade.
Second, the number of pregnant teenagers who choose an abortion is rising. This is obviously bad news. Ideally the number of unwanted teenage pregancies would fall to near zero, only wanted foetuses would be conceived and so the proportion of terminations would fall dramatically.
Yet once a pregnancy has begun, I’m not horrified by the news that greater numbers of 12, 13, 14 and 15 years olds are chosing to terminate. In fact, it strikes me that one could make an argument that these vulnerable children are getting the support they need to make the choice that they feel is best for them.
To be blunt, If a 12 year old girl is pregnant, I’d want the possibility of an abortion to be raised with her, even if she or her parents did not raise it. She, or in the case of such a young girl, they, can say no, but I see not moral victory in teenage mothers having to have babies becuase they are afraid to, or ignorant of the possibility of abortion (yes, or adoption).
Now can anyone imagine a politician being able to make this argument – that the increase in the proportion of teenage preganancies being aborted is possibly a sign that sex education is working and that young women are getting better, more responsive healthcare if they become pregnant, and not being flayed alive?
I doubt it. I don’t blame politicians for being circumspect on issues like this. I admire the bravery who do speak out, like William Wilberforce, or John Adams in later life, or a long litany of others*, but I also understand thatyou make a choice in politics between championing causes and making decisions. Too often we salute the champions of pure causes and dismiss those wrestling with the difficulties of trying to please most of the people at least some of the time. I don’t blame them for ducking out of the occassional battle -especially when it looks unwinnable.
Politicians who seek power hae to fight on the terrain their given. It’s down to others to change that terrain. This means it’s left to journalists, like Caitlin Moran, who wrote an excellent piece in the Times and campaigners outside politics to make arguments that are nearly impossible for politicians to make.
*Should I admire David Davis then? He’s making a stand on something I disagree with him, and which he believes is important. Yet I don’t. his campaign is too theatrical, too vain glorious, too showboat, too easy. If Davis really is sacrificing his political career, I’ll be impressed, but I can’t help but suspect that he’s got his eyes on another prize altogether. He reminds me more of Heseltine than Wilberforce. Maybe I’m wrong though.