Thinking the unthinkable

Only two days after I link to his blog, Tom Harris gets “Daily Mailed” over asking why Britons aren’t happier when we are so relatively prosperous.

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.

18 Responses to “Thinking the unthinkable”

  1. Cassilis

    Your point is a strong one but I suspect we’re all guilty of doing what the Mail did today – left & right, MSM & blogger – because it’s the first port of call when it’s difficult or impossible to argue with the substance of what people say. The issue becomes secondary to motive or context al la Blair’s speech a 18months or so back – the media (us included) prefer the story about conflict or offended egos etc. and more often than not its more interesting than the substance.

    For example on the DD thing I think you’ve got it wrong – on the day he announced his decision your post was based on how Labour strategists might counter the story, ‘lines to take’ etc. That it didn’t occur to you to defend 42 days (until prompted by a comment) illustrates the mindset you’re rightly criticising here.

  2. alunephraim

    Abortion isn’t really mentioned in sex education classes in the context of contraception. Or at least it wasn’t when I went to school (which was probably not quite as long ago as you).

  3. newmania

    might actually be a sign that sex education strategies are helping young women make the right choices for themselves

    ..and it might not ? Given that the mythic girl who is unaware that fucking leads to babies doesnot exist in real life I`d say not .You are making a complex thing simple and living in a Matrix of progressive poltical invention.Also it is not necessarry to have ‘profound philosophical beliefs’ ( AKA religious nut ) especially to want the limit lowered. Ask the people walking around how they feel about being murdered in a state sanctioned act of convenience.

    Finally – What we actually see are horrifying levels of teenage pregnancy and abortion . This is evidence of moral decay desocialised behaviour and a lack of respect for life .So we flush the evidence away., woopeee .

    I can see why you have no trouble staying cheerful

  4. Webbo

    Bang on about the teen abortions. I felt pretty queasy when I woke up to hear how the figures were being reported on Today. It looks like a classic example of reporters jumping on the most sensational numbers: fewer pregnancies overall, more abortions, fewer teen mums… you could break the numbers down in various directions, but “more abortions” is the most excitingly judgemental one.

    Full disclosure: I could have had an abortion in my late teens, chose not to, and consider myself fortunate (and a better mum) for having had the choice. I’m glad abortion is available, and I’m glad that of the fewer young girls getting pregnant, more are deciding that they’re not ready for maternity. Christ knows, being pregnant and being adolescent are rotten enough on their own – combining the two weird conditions seems ruinous.

  5. asquith

    I hold the strong opinion that the Daily Mail and the Sun do not have a great influence over the public. They hold a gun to the government’s head, boasting that everyone listens to what they say, but it isn’t true.

    For example, the Sun takes great pains to put itself on the winning side in a general election: responding to public opinion rather than leading it. I read the sickening “coverage”: it was obvious that they wanted Howard to win, but they said they endorsed Blair because they thought Blair was going to do it & wanted to be seen to be on the winning side.

    Likewise, they obviously dislike Cameron, but will probably support him if they think he is going to win.

    Murdoch, Dacre and scum like that actually have very little influence: for example, over 42 days, public opinion is eventually going to turn against them as fuckers actually start thinking about the issue.

    In conclusion, a government that utterly stands up to these scum and nails them, pursuing progressive policies that Cameron won’t dare undo, could be a winner. I don’t believe Brown is capable of producing that change. But if he could overcome his mental barriers, it is possible in terms of the world.

  6. asquith

    Their only power is over the government, but that results from the belief that they influence the public, which is false. A government that said “You speak for no one but yourselves, now fuck off, & we will do things you hate” would be pleasantly surprised.

    They’ve offended the Guardian & The Independent enough times :)

  7. newmania

    Asquith the constant assertion that there is a right wing press consistently fails to make it so. There is the Mirror , the New Statesman and the Guardian the last two being funded politically and unable to pay their way. The BBC is obviously left leaning , its coverage of the EU is in particular staggering.

    If anything the media is slanted leftwards and if there was room for another lefty paper there is absolutely no bar. The Murdoch thing is in fact an reinvention of the Capitalist conspiracy theme which has taken such varied forms as the Protocols of Zion and is a key left myth . You might think that , for example , Lord Ashcroft was a shadowy sinister figure donating undreamt of sums . Less than Lord Sainsbury to Labour actually , but it suits the myth , same with the Midlands Council , an entirely innocent means for business men to make donations without alienating half of their customers , a common problem as I know well. Ah…but in Myth it is a conspiratorial collusion of vested interests .

  8. asquith

    Yes, but the Guardian (alongside the Independent) is read by very few people, none of whom have any influence over government policy. If the views of liberals had been paramount, the government would not have joined in with the Iraq adventure or assaulted our civil liberties.

    I have always been opposed to socialism, & I regard this government as socialist in a twisted sort of way: I do not agree with those who regard “Old Labour” as better than New Labour, as it’s all Labour to me.

    Joe Average does not consider the BBC to be slanted towards the left: I regard this as a hobby horse of very right-wing conservatives. If I were in charge, I’d give increased support to the BBC, & remove whatever bias there is.

    Besides which, much coverage is slanted towards the right. For example, the obsession with having both sides of a “debate” reflected, even when one side is clearly in the right, that leads to utter maniacs like Mad Mel Phillips being wheeled out.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I am economically liberal, & I scorn New Labour’s economic policy & links to large corporations: they mistakenly think that shilling out for big business makes them economically liberal, but it is actually the opposite.

    Your views are not as far from mine as it may sometimes seem :)

  9. Francesco Sinibaldi

    With fear in your eyes….

    It’s night, the
    tepid tincture of
    the valley invites
    me to escape
    near the sound
    of a woody recall,
    and this in your
    delicate sign, the
    second degree
    of a beautiful kiss…

    Francesco Sinibaldi

  10. tim f

    On papers: The Sun’s election coverage is usually very different from it’s normal coverage. It gets instructions from Murdoch to back the winner at election-time, maybe, but otherwise it is naturally right-wing.

    Saying the press is left-wing by identifying the Mirror, the New Statesman and the Guardian is ludicrous. The Mirror (much as I love it to bits, and think it’s the most intelligent, serious and wise newspaper out there) has less readers than the Sun, the New Statesman less than the Spectator and the Guardian less than the Telegraph. Then there’s the Mail (with huge readership) and the Express (with more readers than the Guardian) on top of that. And the Times (with more readers than the Guardian), though newmania probably reckons the Times is centrist rather than right-wing.

    Personally I wouldn’t regard the Guardian or the Indie as left-wing, I think of them as liberal. The BBC I think of as liberal with a right-wing bias. The only left-wing dailies as far as I’m concerned are the Mirror and the Morning Star.

  11. Ted Harvey

    You got this one way, way, wrong and maybe for once the tabloids got it right. Tom Harris is typical of todays detached-from-real-life MPs in Westminster who have no connection or understanding about what is going on ‘out there’. Even at the most cynical level, one can say that if he did have an idea he would not have stuck his big foot in this one.
    He and the other MPs have been blatantly ridding a gravy train for a long time now… just currently they are pushing it even more with the ‘need’ for an extra £40,o00 allownce. Then again becuae they can get less and less of us gullible enough to vote for them, they want us to stump up for state grants for political parties. And please don’t bleat about how they need allownaces etc. because thye are underpaid. If that’s true and they have a case then why not have the decency and guts to come out into the democratic lioght and argue their case.

    But instead Tom Harris, like a lot of similar Labour MPs in todays versions of rotten boroughs will long continue to draw in from the public purse whilst they pointlessly preside over constituencies containing some of the worst deprivation in the UK, possibly even in Europe. Anyone who has doubt on this, or the arrogant;y wilfull igonaronce of the facts and cant by Tom Harris should visit his constituency.

  12. Hopisen

    Ted, your argument (which is, as far as I can tell, that Tom is wrong and out of touch because life has not improved materially in Glasgow south) would be massively improved if it contained a shred of evidence amongst the assertions and rhetoric.

  13. Ted Harvey

    What I put was a blog comment and not, as you label it, an ‘argument’. There is neither the room or point (nor I suspect the readership here) to justify the regurgitation endless rows of what you might call ‘facts’ … whatever you mean by that (there is nothing in any of what I say would be countered by supposed ‘facts’). Facts, as Tom Harris so ably demonstrated can be the basis for fatuous and self-justifying cant. Incidentally – re your sad quoting out of context of what I posted; life has without doubt improved materially in South Glasgow, in fact it has been one of the property hotspots over the past decade or so. But there again that it one of those ‘facts’ that the likes of Tom Harris who inhabit their privileged Westminster politicians’ world superficially scan and then conclude things like “oh well, there we are, we’ve never had it so good… now come on there stop whinging”.
    As part of the Westminster-media goldfish bowl community it seems to me that you share the myopic view of society that Tom Harris purveyed. You certainly share that community’s utter inability to comprehend with the David Davies ‘stunt’.

  14. hopisen


    Get off your high horse.

    If there’s one thing sadder than writing a blog with a tiny audience, it’s commenting on it, and if there’s one thing sadder than commenting on it, it’s saying “it’s barely worth my time” when challenged.

    Still, I note you have the good grace to admit that Tom is right on the essential point he makes, that people are materially better off, yet that doesn’t translate into greater contentment. That is progress.

  15. newmania

    Saying the press is left-wing by identifying the Mirror, the New Statesman and the Guardian is ludicrous.

    I did not say that anyone wanted to read the left wing Press , of course they don`t its a fabulously unpopular credo whcih exists only by the brute power of offering some people other people`s money to vote for it . Nonetheless non commercial funding goes into the left wing written press to skew the market and the Guardian and Staggers are recipients as well as the BBC.

    No such funding goes into the right wing Press , so called which simply refelcts the views of its readers .If you disagree , buy more Mirrors.

    Hopi people are better off because of their own efforts and despite the high tax dispensation we suffer under.I think as a general point the left might want to stop looking back every time they are attacked .
    It quite clearly does not interest anyone and rightly so. In some way you have become the new conservatives seeking to ‘conserve’ the big state friom the advance of the zeigheist ie Liberalisation.
    Take it from an old Conservative , you have to frame your fears as a vision for the future and not drag Thatcher out of the crypt . This remark was trying to summon a historical context that is irrelevant and irritating .

    I shall enjoy folowing the reinvention of the Labour Party in opposition where I have no doubt you will be saying that sort of thing . What about the future ?

  16. pregethwr

    Hopi re abortion: although the data isn’t collected by social class it is by geographical area. Middle-class areas have very low teenage pregnancy rates but very high abortion rates for them; deprived areas are the other way around (off the top of my head the lowest teenage pregnancy/highest abortion is Guildford the highest teenage pregnancy/lowest abortion is Merthyr).

    The social trend the Mail is identifying and bemoaning is the same as the one Tom Harris identified: we are getting richer.

  17. hopisen

    On a side note. God I hate reading what I’ve written. How many typo’s? And that’s after a spellcheck and an edit through.

    I don’t care what people say about blogging, I’d love to have an editor.


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