We are of course in an election battle in the UK even though no date has been given for the actual day. Most commentators think it will be May 5th, the same day as the local elections. All the usual suspects are on their feet taking every opportunity to forward their views, usually under the banner of ‘what the electorate wants’.
As usual, bribery is a large component of ‘policy’. The pensioners are patronised, Middle England is massaged by diatribes against taxes and Travellers encampments. Both Blair and Howard wrap themselves in the flag and promise to defend us from shadowy enemies. Blair pulls off the biggest con-trick of modern times by using his party’s parliamentary majority to ram through a bill which in effect removes Habeas Corpus. We can all, theoretically, be placed under house arrest. (5 hours debate on this as opposed to 50 hours in this session devoted to fox-hunting and 700 hours in all.)
However, none of this should come as a surprise. By and large, conviction politics is dead. At one time one could vote on clear principles and policies but now that the politicians have, by and large, lost the public’s trust they have to become even more innovative in their appeals for public support. We have seen them descend to the use of fear and I believe they are now sinking to even lower depths, they are starting to talk about ‘Morals’.
On the face of it this is a no-brainer; of course everyone will support good public morality and ethics, the problem arises when the concept of ‘morality’ becomes confused. At the moment the debate is focussed on abortion v. pro-life. This reared it’s head when Cardinal Connor Cruise O’Brien opined that electors should ask their candidates which side of the debate they supported and vote for the pro-life candidate. All this from his lofty position in the Roman Catholic and in accord with the Church’s teaching.
Apart from the fact that his world view must be incredibly simplistic if he thinks that the process of choosing a government can be reduced to a single issue we should remember that this is the same man that was under attack a few months ago for protecting a paedophile priest and appointing him to a new post. He had no convincing defence against this and kept his head down until the storm blew over. What message does this give us about his personal morality?
The Archbishop of Canterbury leapt in and basically supported the pro-life cause. Again, no surprise there. Blair then squeals that this shouldn’t be an election issue; not surprising because he is a closet Roman Catholic and is torn between running a government that allows abortion and a faith that prohibits it.
My problem here is the old one of the lack of separation between church and state in the UK. I do not believe that ‘morality’ is the property of the religions and to confuse the two effectively obscures the chance of any rational debate even if it was needed.
Even more disturbing is the fact that the vast majority of the opinions we are hearing come from men. How can a celibate priest who evidently doesn’t regard the rights of the child as very important in some respects suddenly become exercised about the right to life of an unborn child?
Like it or not, we are at a position where abortion is legal in this country and on the whole is supervised quite adequately by the medical profession supported by existing legislation. This means that back-street abortions are a thing of the past. Young women’s lives are not ruined by one terrible incident such as rape or one mistake or one conception of a damaged child. As a historian I think this is thoroughly admirable and leaves the final decision where it should be, with the mother. I support women’s rights to make their own ‘moral’ decisions and live with them. No woman ever decided on abortion as a whim, it is always done under immense pressure and nobody has the ‘moral’ authority to interfere, least of all a church riddled with dogma.
There is an even more disturbing aspect to this debate. I have always admired the American Constitution for its clear separation between Church and state but we see the Bush government pursuing a neo-conservative agenda promoting America in the New Century which is bolstered by the worst examples of ‘Fundamental Christianity’. There are signs that this is happening in the UK and we should watch this very carefully.
Everybody is allowed an opinion but when they make the assumption that their opinion, or belief, is a given truth and should be enshrined in law we are on very dodgy ground. This is by definition the position of the pro-life faction and they campaign for it. Note that they campaign because they believe they can change the law. In my opinion they should be allowed to express their views but it should be made quite clear that there will be no change in legislation which will damage a woman’s right to choose. The only people who have any right to choose are those who will have to carry and support the child. Nobody else, not even the father, has any right to dictate the course of their lives. We should never forget that there are two lives at stake here, the mother’s and the child’s. It is a dilemma that has no clear resolution and the decision should be left with the mother. Any outside intervention should be limited to giving the mother the very best support and advice available, that is the only proper role of government in this matter.
SCG/21 March 2005