Having given the matter careful consideration, I have decided that I do not agree with councillor Colin Brewer’s suggestion that disabled children should be ‘put down’ after birth, perhaps in the manner of a farmer smashing a deformed newly born lamb against a wall, as he helpfully put it. ‘You can’t have lambs wandering around with two heads or five legs, can you?’ Colin asked, presumably rhetorically. Colin is a councillor in Wadebridge East, Cornwall, and does not come across as the fullest pasty in the lunchbox. It would not surprise me if some wag has already made the rather bad-taste point to him that if his proposal were adopted, the Cornish population would disappear very quickly.
On the other hand, he is not alone in his belief that there is a moral case for post-birth euthanasia — or ‘murder’, as we more usually call it. There are plenty of intellectual, leftish ethicists who would be prepared to contemplate such a thing. The Australian academics Peter Singer and Francesca Minerva, for example, refuse to distinguish morally between the life of a foetus and that of a newborn child — and rather than coming to the unfashionable conclusion that abortion must therefore be wrong, they instead suggest that killing infants is OK because they are only, in Minerva’s words, ‘potential persons’. Ethicists are similar to Kenneth Clarke, I think. Just as one can be sure that one is doing the right thing politically by doing the precise opposite of whatever Ken suggests, so one can be sure that one is doing the right thing morally if one thinks the precise opposite of whatever ethicists are thinking.
Col the councillor has been hammered for his comments, of course. Fair enough. There were demands for him to resign — and, fortunately, shortly after he made his remarks, he was up for re-election in his ward. However, the people of Wadebridge East voted him back in, perhaps believing that since the peremptory slaying of infants is not within Cornwall County Council’s intra vires, Brewer’s odd views on this issue would not matter terribly much.
But democracy in action is of no concern to the single-issue pressure groups such as Mencap. They are demanding he apologise or retract his comments, preferably both. They are also getting up an online petition demanding he be removed — the jabbering, infuriated hordes of cyberland, then, trumping the actual votes of his constituents. One Mencap spokesmonkey even suggested he would be raising the matter with the Prime Minister. This is totalitarianism in action; it is also bullying, even if it is the bullying of an idiot. Why should he apologise for a belief sincerely held? Why should he be forced to resign when his constituents want him exactly where he is, i.e. as a serving county councillor? Why does Mencap believe it has the right to persecute an individual because of his views and that its protests should carry greater weight than the democratic process? These people will not be happy until we all think precisely the same way.
The case of Barbara Hewson is very similar. Hewson, a barrister, wrote an article for the excellent Spiked Online website, questioning the legality and morality of the Operation Yewtree police investigation into historic examples of child abuse allegedly committed by popular low-brow entertainers. She also called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13, so as to end the ‘persecution’ of old men. This last is, I think, a minority view, although I have not conducted an opinion poll on the matter. A majority of our European neighbours have an age of consent which is lower than 16 years, with 14 years (the Vatican and Germany, to give just two examples) and 15 years (Sweden, Serbia, Poland and many more) by far the most common. Spain, meanwhile, has set its age of consent at 13. So Hewson’s proposal is hardly outlandish.
On the other issue, regarding Operation Yewtree and the persecution of old men, I suspect her views are shared by a reasonably large tranche of the population, although again, I have not conducted an opinion poll.
But how do you think the NSPCC reacted? As you might well have imagined, they disagreed with some fervour — and if that’s where it ended there would be no issue. But they went much further than that. They instructed her to reconsider her article or remove it!
And then they went further still, by contacting the chambers at which Ms Hewson worked and demanding that they disassociate themselves from her views. If her chambers had possessed even the slenderest vestiges of a spine or loyalty they would have told the NSPCC to get stuffed. But of course, they do not, and the statement disowning their colleague was rapidly forthcoming. They were, I think, frit. The sociologist Frank Furedi commented: ‘It was a form of moral blackmail of Hewson. The message was clear: if you refuse to toe our line, we will create problems for you in your place of work and in the public realm more broadly. In other words, if you don’t shut up, we will make sure that your daddy punishes you.’
Furedi’s point was that the NSPCC presents itself as the sole moral arbiter for anything concerning children, and that all other views must be repressed. It is how they are, these vast and loaded single-issue charities; you abide by their views and their views alone, otherwise they will hound you.