There has seldom been a time when responsible, intelligent people were less interested in serious politics. The main opposition, gripped by some Freudian delusion because reality is too hard to bear, behaves as if it were still the government and so cannot oppose or even think about doing so. The discourse of the mainstream parties is duller than congealed porridge. They seek, above all, to hide their real intentions and so must shun controversy. Many still act and speak as if any firm opinion is a sort of bad manners, like talking shop in the mess. It is left to buffoons like Robert Kilroy-Silk, ruffians like the BNP or fanatics like George Galloway to address the subjects that matter, and for the most part to get them wrong. While the worst are as usual full of passionate intensity, the best are more interested in the menu.
So forgive me for interrupting your holiday thoughts when I say that last week was one of the most alarming I have lived through in recent years, perhaps since that August in 1991 when I woke after a strangely troubled night to see a column of tanks trundling along my Moscow street, throwing up a great fog of dust as their tracks chewed the tarmac.
But the things that frightened me were not all in faraway countries of which we know little. They were mostly here among us. On Friday, as the political world broke up for the summer, the government finally disclosed its response to the recent case of a 14-year-old girl given an abortion without her parents’ knowledge. The Department of Health declared that this was perfectly all right, and should be standard practice from now on.
On the same day, the ‘Department for Education and Skills’, as it is satirically known, slipped out figures showing that more than 10 children are expelled each day from English state schools for assaulting either staff or fellow pupils. Another 280 a day were merely suspended for similar attacks. This comes at a time when social radicals continue to dismiss all fears that the growth in the numbers of mothers going out to work, combined with the decline in the number of stable marriages, might be damaging the upbringing of their children.
In the same week we had learnt of yet another serious increase in sexually transmitted disease, and had seen the conviction of a schoolboy for the murder of one of his fellows. Parliament’s foreign affairs committee had concluded that both Iraq and Afghanistan, the scenes of our supposedly benevolent interventions in the so-called ‘war against terror’, were in danger of becoming zones of utter anarchy. This war against terror continued to defy normal logic. An Irish terrorist was formally sentenced to a long term of imprisonment for a foul killing, but everyone accepted that he would soon have to go free under the terms of the ‘Peace Process’, perhaps the most abject surrender to terrorism ever made by a major state. A ludicrous pamphlet had been published by the Home Office, urging us to store baked beans and bottled water in case of terrorist attack, but actually to encourage an atmosphere of semi-panic, compliance and dependency, as a wholly illogical response to the danger of assault by Islamic fanatics. Those fanatics, meanwhile, were soon to be protected by law against those who criticised their faith. Another committee of MPs had concluded that there were no fundamental objections to introducing identity cards for British subjects.
I fling these disparate items together because I cannot understand how anyone could be complacent at such a time. It reminds me, in some ways, of the descriptions by historians of the strange fevered period before 1914, which was recognised as a dangerous moment only by troublesome outsiders.
For me, the worst of these pieces of news is the confirmation that children can be given abortions without their parents being told. It combines so many evils at once that the mind can barely take them in. More than 20 years ago the late Helen Brook, a great enthusiast for sex education and freely available contraceptives, declared, ‘From birth to death it is now the privilege of the parental state to take major decisions — objective, unemotional, the state weighs up what is best for the child.’ To be fair to her, she loathed abortion and thought — quite wrongly — that readily available contraception would reduce it. In fact, by convincing the young that sex is not really linked to procreation at all, it has had the opposite effect. When pills and coils and condoms fail, the abortionist is called in to act as a longstop to halt a pregnancy which has by then become unthinkable.
Sex education, invented by the Marxist intellectual hero Georg Luk