Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Stay Free

This month’s Prospect has a review of Stephen Pollard’s book about David Blunkett, the former British Home Secretary, by David Marquand who (I believe) is a former Labour Party member who defected to the Social Democratic Party, since merged into the Liberal Democrats. While not overly interested in the subject matter – only to the extent that Blunkett’s assault on civil liberties, if successful, would very likely be followed in Ireland – I was taken by the contrast Marquand has drawn between New Labour (Blair and Blunkett) and the Labour government of the late ‘60s (Harold Wilson and Roy Jenkins).

The basic point made is that Jenkins (in particular) and Wilson used their electoral mandate to make progressive societal improvements, despite the objection of populists. These were politicians whom the British people had elected to run the country and who, therefore, implemented social policies that they were convinced were for the betterment of the Nation yet who could have been accused of acting against the wishes of “the people” or being “liberal elitists” or of even being “against democracy” by the populists. In contrast, Marquand says, New Labour (i.e. Blair and Blunkett) would never have stood up to the populists of those days and thus prisoners would still be flogged, homosexuality would still be outlawed and legislation against racial discrimination would be muted.

The review has set my mind racing on a number of fronts – is there any hope in Ireland for a government that isn’t populist, a government that would actually implement a fair, civilised and just social programme without fear or prejudice (and, of course, without fear of electoral defeat)? Also, could the likes of Jenkins have survived today in our media cesspit, assaulted by the right-wing Murdoch press and fear-mongering Daily Mail? Lastly, as I ticked off Marquand’s list of civilising legislation, I inevitably reached abortion. Now, I’ve wrestled with my own conscience on abortion before, and qualified my opinion, but I just can’t understand how abortion can be considered civilised.

Yet again this one issue puts the skids on my social democratic, liberal feelings and intuition. I’ll repeat, for the sake of the point, that contraception should be freely available to all – condoms, the pill, morning-after pill – and all women should be in complete control of their own fertility at all times, regardless of cost. But I just have a gut intuition that abortion is simply wrong and uncivilised. Like murder, robbery, slavery and rape; the killing of unwanted young is uncivilised.
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