What would a Tory government do?

// 10 August 2009

In this guest post, Ella Prostick takes a look at just how ‘Progressive’ the Conservatives are under Cameron

It’s been a year since David Cameron’s speech in which he argued that social problems were the result of people’s choices and called for an end to moral neutrality.

Since then he’s been rather quiet on the subject of morals. We had to wait until January for Ken Clarke to be reported criticising Cameron’s policy of giving tax breaks to married couples and warning that within the party “stuff I associate with the religious right in America, I think, is having too much influence.”

Fast forward six months and now we have the man who sets Cameron’s “mood music”, a member of the Tory leader’s inner circle and former theologian, saying that he sees abortion as “unacceptable”.

And that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children!

The evening’s chief provocateur is Phillip Blond, director of the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos. Blond stirs the conversation pot by arguing that society should discourage adoption of children by gay couples. There is much hooting around the table and a call for data supporting his claim that having one parent of each sex is best for kids. Instead, Blond resorts to a line of argument I find weak, namely that since humans have raised kids in heterosexual couples for aeons, it must be good.

If this is supposed to be Progressive Conservativism – what does the unprogessive type look like?

Another indicator of what we might expect in terms of social policy comes from Iain Duncan Smith’s “broken society” report, which informed Cameron’s decision to make tax breaks to married couples Tory policy.

Which is full of gems like…

We took evidence from many people working with people entrenched in the most persistent poverty who particularly noted the levels and effects of fatherlessness within this population, where it is so easy for a single mother to get support, concern and benefits… there appears to be an easy dependency on the state which people will not willingly give up. This is an environment where young women routinely express the attitude that ‘everyone else is a single parent anyway, so what’s the big deal if I become one.’

It’s unclear what point he’s making – that young fathers would stick around if there were no benefits available to the mothers? – but the subtext is clear: he wants those same benefits reduced.

Although there have been lots of reports of a clear-out of the old Tory guard in the wake of the expenses scandal, there have also been suggestions that the new young Tories coming through are even more socially conservative than their predecessors:

Those most likely to be new Tory MPs are, in general, less concerned about climate change than terrorism, oppose green taxes and are hostile to gay adoptions.

We’re going to have reason to be afraid in 2010. Very afraid.

Comments From You

HarpyMarx // Posted 10 August 2009 at 11:53 am

Oh, indeed, it will be appalling when that nasty party gets re-elected. They will emphasise the importance of the traditional hetero nuke family and award tax breaks. Any other family unit will be scorned upon.

And lets not forget it was these b’stards who brought in the homophobic Section 28!

I think people should be afraid as who knows what other nasties the Tories have up their sleeves, and it will be implemented at turbo-charged speed.

And I dread to think what they will be considering re reproductive/abortion rights!!

Jennifer Drew // Posted 10 August 2009 at 1:39 pm

Phillip Bond, a member of the so-called (re)progressive conservativism has written speeches for David Cameron said in an interview with a Guardian journalist that he wants ‘abortion to be limited to only the most extreme cases.’ Wonderful – another male who believes he has the right to control women’s bodies.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2009/aug/08/phillip-blond-conservatives-david-cameron

Likewise that old old misogynistic mantra is being used again – namely the demonisation of young women who – horrors dare to become pregnant and then do not have a ‘male role model’ living in their household. Since when have benefits ever been easily obtained for women who for innumerable reasons have to raise a child or children on their own.

But then it is far easier to demonise a certain female group which automatically diverts attention away from deeply embedded societal issues of how and why our society continues to be one which devalues women as a group and blames women for all the ‘social issues.’ ‘Broken society’ is a code word for the misogynistic view that our society should all be heterosexual with a male head of house in all family units. In other words promotion of patriarchy hidden under the claims of (re)progressive conservatism. Also, too the now common claims that ‘individuals alone are responsible for their poverty or inability to obtain employment etc.’ Yet another patriarchal trick because it neatly invisibilises how social inequality affects ‘individuals’ not ‘individuals cause their own inequalities.’ ‘Individuals’ means of course women because as I said above, it is women who are always responsible for causing our ‘broken society.’

Katherine Sirrell // Posted 10 August 2009 at 3:33 pm

This was based on figures depicting the (very rough) attitudes of the potential new influx of conservatie candidates. It is worth noting that not only was this a very far fetched prediction, seeing as we have very few tools for predicting which specific candidates will find favour with the public, but is made up of incredible generalisations itself. As for the gay couples adopting, this was only in relation to not forcing religious adoption groups to promote these foster parents, which I would say is an example of incredibly left wing politics. And in relation to the comment about single mothers with benefits, I think the point was more questioning the appropriate support which should be given, rather than obliterating welfare for the sake of it. And as for giving back tax benefits to married couples, i find it frustrating that many automatically assume that the desire to bring emphasis back to the family means preferring one family form over the others. It is possible to bring back these tax cuts, to encourage a more sensible approach to marriage and divorce, whilst at the same time recognising and rewarding the benefits of cohabitating couples and single parent families.

Although on the face of it, Cameron’s promises to eradicate sex discrimination within politics have fallen short, I have personally been disappointed with tory females. If I had a choice between a male emphasis or Theresa May, I would have to turn my back on Ms May. I don’t think this news is as worrying as it first appears, although I am concerned as to these comments on abortion, although again Cameron has not officially announced he would limit the time.

Anon // Posted 10 August 2009 at 4:19 pm

What would count as an extreme case? I am extremely sure that I don’t want to carry a pregnancy to term until I am ready and willing to have a child. Would I pass or would I need to make up some crap about being raped by my brother or something? Way to fix a broken society.

Jehenna // Posted 10 August 2009 at 4:36 pm

@ Katherine S

I think the reason people get upset at the idea of tax breaks for married couples, is because there’s discrimination inherent in that. Essentially it turns a moral point of view into a financial incentive.

I think that encouraging a more mature attitude towards marriage is a great idea. But I don’t think that people should be financially penalised if they choose to arrange their affairs another way. And essentially, that’s what giving tax breaks will do. It also means that single parents who are often already financially struggling, will be further penalised by not getting access to tax breaks through possibly no fault of their own.

What scares me is that if someone was skating that close to the poverty line, they might decide to stay married, regardless of the circumstances, simply because it wasn’t possible to afford to split. In those situations, people’s mental and physical health can be at risk, not just the couple, but their children. That’s not an acceptable price to pay for making marriage seem more attractive.

I think that if people want to make marriage more attractive, then they need to look at why it isn’t attractive, and think about that some.

Punishing people financially for not choosing to marry does not make marriage any more successful as a way of life. Marriage does not mean family-oriented – many abuses which destroy families happen within marriage, and many people can create a supportive family atmosphere without the legal process of a marriage.

The focus on marriage, in my opinion, actually pushes people away from a focus on family, because it prioritises a legal state of being, over the attitude of creating a loving family environment. If the Tories were genuinely concerned about families, then marriage would be irrelevant. Their focus on marriage suggests to me, that this is a smokescreen.

HarpyMarx // Posted 10 August 2009 at 4:59 pm

The Tories want to divide and rule, along with creating a society that is predicated towards marriage, and hetro nuclear families (emphasis on the patriarchal father figure) and thus are financially rewarded. This will create a very unequal society, that is ideologically driven. Along with further poverty.

And you only have to see how New Labour are attacking lone parents (majority being women) when it comes to welfare reform. Again, the Tories will continue this.

I mean, on a personal level, i was brought up in a hetero nuclear family where two people (mum and dad) were married but genuinely hated each other, the atmosphere wasn’t caring, loving or compassionate. It was abusive and destructive…. but then we live in a society that emphasises the institution of marriage and the family.

And you can see what kind of ideology the Tories will be pushing with the ‘Broken Society’ reactionary bilge!

Karen // Posted 10 August 2009 at 11:22 pm

It almost makes me want to vote labour again. The mail readers will be flocking like herds of lemmings around whichever party can pretend to be the bnp without actually being the bnp and then saying “I’ve got nothing against women/gays/disabled people/immigrants/insert other minority here, but….” Wonderful, I for one will sleep more soundly tonight….

Phillip Blond // Posted 12 August 2009 at 3:55 pm

A thank you to the comments above. What I would like to do, if I may, is correct some misrepresentations of what I think and misquotations of what I have said.

I would honestly describe myself as a feminist who has real ethical and moral reservations about abortion. I think there are many feminists who feel the same way and I think an adult conversation should reflect this. This is a debate few cultures are mature enough to have, but the ethical points on both sides do need to be recognised and debated. I strongly believe in maintaining choice for women – but I would want this to be a real choice with the penalty for actually having children or a family not being so high. Hence I am in favour of state, civil and familial support for childcare, appropriate and just distribution of parental responsibility, and vastly enhanced maternity rights and real career protection for women who have children. Moreover I would want to make men more responsible both legally and morally for the children they have helped to create. I want culture change rather than legal revision producing a society where we have fewer abortions and more sustained and sustaining relationships. In short I believe in both real equality and empowerment for women whilst having genuine moral problems, which I suspect many women also do, with the fact of abortion.

Secondly on gay adoption, I am not in principle against it. These remarks came from when I was discussing the abolition of the Catholic adoption agencies. I would argue that a plural and free society should be able to maintain a place for a Catholic vision of the nurture of children that thought that though men and women are equal they are nonetheless different and as such both contribute something unique that is particular to their sex to the rearing of children. The idea that in a free society this difference of conscience should not have a place is what I was objecting to. I would just as equally and on the same grounds defend the idea that gay couples could contribute something unique to the upbringing of children, and so should have that right. So my remarks were not anti gay – but pro a more plural society – one that actually allowed genuine difference of belief to co-exist.

I hope in some sense that clarifies what I actually do think. Don’t believe what you read in the papers. I really want a society were all, gay and non-gay, men and women can flourish in mutual and reciprocal care and solicitude.

micearenice // Posted 12 August 2009 at 5:10 pm

I understood that feminism was about a womens right to choose what happens to her body, and that limiting this right was a particularly unfeminist thing… I would be keen to hear from other feminists who share Mr Blond’s ethical and moral reservations about abortion. Maybe I need educating.

RadFemHedonist // Posted 12 August 2009 at 8:25 pm

There is no place for sexism in society, the view that women and men are different is sexism and is not something that any adoption agency should be allowed to endorse, and giving women the choice of an abortion or pregnancy should not involve trying to coerce them into getting married, moral reservations… what about physical self defense is wrong again? Women do not always want to be pregnant and become mothers, just because a man is willing to do their share of the childcare doesn’t change that. By enforcing a system that allows some adoption agencies to deny a same-sex couple who would make good parents the same adoption rights as a straight couple who would make good parents you are encouraging women to have abortions anyway, as you are reducing the chances of a genuinely suitable home being found for a born homosapien under 18 who’s mother decided to give them up for adoption. We’d be far better off disallowing religious fundamentalists from adopting children, the damage they do to them. Funny how all those arguing that children need opposite sex parents never call for a group marriage multi-racial arrangement (I say group marriage because there are more than two races, though those distinctions are arbitrary anyway), since they’re so keen on pulling up stereotypes about difference. The only thing I can think of is that it is good for children to be exposed to those of varying genetic appearances (colour, body shape) and sexualities, but unless you’re planning to take your kids to a single-sex commune or hiding in a bunker in a war zone or something (at which point the most pressing issue might not be that there aren’t at least one man and at least one woman in it), they’ll meet men and women throughout life, and the conservative opposition to immigration and tendency to support policy which endorses class-race divides and separates up neighbourhoods and schools along racial lines does not bode well for them having any actual conviction that a non-racially segregated society is a good thing. As a final point, why are catholic adoption agencies allowed to exist in the first place? All adoption agencies should be secular, and I don’t care if anyone else disagrees, I’ll just post the news story about the nine year old who got raped by her stepfather after which her mother got her an abortion only to be excommunicated by the pope along with the doctor who performed it, the stepfather wasn’t though, he’s still heaven bound according to Mr. I really really hate women so much I get tetchy if I don’t do something to make their lives more unbearable on a regular basis and also I think covering up child molestation is an important part of my faith.

Suzi FemAcadem // Posted 12 August 2009 at 10:16 pm

I have to say I think micearenice has it in one. You can have as many ‘moral’ objections to abortion as you like Mr Blond but to be honest it still isn’t your choice, nor is it a choice you will ever have to make. Limiting women’s choices just becuase YOU have moral objections won’t make you a better person or make society somehow nicer.

What will lower abortion rates is better access to reliable contraception for women, and end to a society which condones and encourages rape and sexual violence against women, better education for both men and women, and the end to the stigmatising of womens sexuality and the choices women make when mothering, amongst other things. The reasons women have abortions are complex and multi faceted and banning abortion won’t make it go away- if you support banning or limiting abortion then you are supporting the killing and maiming of women. I do agree with you that men must be held more legally and morally responsible for their children but at the same time introducing measures which could potentially force even more women to remain in abusive relation ships because they cannot afford to leave them or because they will be socially disadvantaged if they do, won’t help anyone and certainly won’t lead to a society where women are equal.

If you have moral and ethical issues with abortion then that’s fine. But Mr Blond, you will never have an abortion. It’s unfeminist of you to attempt to portray yourself as a feminist whilst at the same time supporting and recommending policies which will in practice penalise women and potentially lead to the deaths of many thousands of women. If you want to be a feminist try actually consulting some feminists and coming up with women friendly policies for the Tories that aren’t just a sop to the moralistic rantings of Daily Male readers.

Suzi FemAcadem

Katherine Sirrell // Posted 12 August 2009 at 11:36 pm

I’m very pleased for Philip Blond for clarifying his original remarks. I also think it is incredibly brave to state that one can be feminist and still have moral reservations about abortion. Feminism comes in many different forms and we should not just assume anti-abortion equals anti-women’s rights. By making these judgments on these comments as ‘typically tory’ or ‘bigoted’, then we risk becoming what we accuse others of. We should realise that those with reservations have their own ideology worth respecting, which is not necessarily targetted at the integrity of our own.

Jehenna // Posted 13 August 2009 at 6:43 am

Hmm, ok.

I’m a feminist and I have a moral problem with abortion. I believe that life begins at conception, and the abortion of a fetus at any stage is murder.

I also believe in God, that the moon-landing wasn’t faked, that there are aliens out there somewhere, and that matriarchies are a convenient myth used by men to explain why women shouldn’t run anything, because none of them exist today.

But here’s the thing. *I* believe these things, but *I* don’t think that this gives me any rights to make rules about these beliefs for other people.

I don’t agree with abortion. But when my best friend got pregnant when we were both 16 and she decided to terminate, I didn’t stop loving or supporting her because of my beliefs. My beliefs were not the issue – hers were.

I also believe that it would be great if we could create a society where having children didn’t mean a huge pay gap, where childcare and childbirth were empowered and revered roles. Where violence against women was so unacceptable, that no one would do it. Where the ability to choose when and how to have children was free for everyone. And then maybe abortion won’t be needed, and my moral view will be comfortable alongside everyone else’s.

But that time and place is not now. And I have no right to impose legislation, practice, prejudice, tyranny or any other way of ensuring that my moral stance is forced on other people.

If I got pregnant, I would not have an abortion. But I believe that the choice belongs to every woman to decide for herself, and that until this wonderful utopia comes about, we have no right to deprive them of making that choice, and of then being able to carry it out with safety and dignity.

Punishing women for living in a mysoginistic world is not right. And that’s what restricting access to safe abortion does, in my opinion.

sianmarie // Posted 13 August 2009 at 9:29 am

suzifemacadem and jehanna – exactly.

just because you might not choose abortion for yourself does not justify restricting a woman’s right to choose.

mr blond – you are never going to get pregnant. so please don’t presume to make decisons about my body that can.

i think it is great that you believe in better childcare and support for single mothers, but this should be done regardless of abortion law. this is part of a bigger spectrum, as suzi has said far more eloquently than i could!

Ashley // Posted 13 August 2009 at 9:53 am

I like how the blame is all on women being single – not on men leaving them. Seems like they think the fairy tale family nuclear unit is going to solve all of the world’s problems – it’s not just conservative it’s using problematic Victorian ideals of women NEEDING to marry.

Sarah // Posted 13 August 2009 at 10:04 am

I am also a feminist with some moral misgivings about abortion – maybe it’s the effect of a Catholic upbringing, it does’t feel right to me, and I don’t think I’d have one myself (though there might be situations in which I would – we never know until we find ourselves in the position of having to make that choice).

But here’s the thing – uncomfortable as I am with abortion, I’m even more uncomfortable with (appalled by) the idea of women being forced to give birth against their will. The practicalities of how that would be enforced are horrifying, and then there’s the fact that in reality it would mean women still having abortions, but having them illegally, with all the danger and lack of regulation that involves, it would mean women injured and dying unnecessarily. It would be a completely outrageous violation of a woman’s human rights, and when we start deciding it’s OK to waive a person’s basic human rights under circumstances such as ‘being female’, ‘being pregnant’, something is very wrong.

Personal moral feelings about abortion aside, I’d rather live in a society where women have access to safe, legal abortion, than are criminalised and driven to dangerous illegal activities in an attempt to have control over their bodies. I hope I never have to make this particular choice, but I’m glad it’s there.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 August 2009 at 10:46 am

I feel like I should speak up here as someone who has actually had an abortion, when I was 17. I didn’t feel any moral misgivings about it then, it didn’t permanantly traumatise me or anything, I don’t regret it and have never regretted it in fact. I had an abortion because I was 17 and didn’t want to in any way shape or form have a child or become a parent.

I’m glad to see Mr Blond takes a more rounded approach than his quoted comments seemed to imply, but he would presumably like to see me locked up with murderers, as he feels I’ve done something just as bad?! Phillip I would like to know if you actually support legislative changes which would mean that if someone was in my position, she would be able to do what she wanted with her own body, or if she’d be forced to carry her pregnancy to term?

I don’t think feeling like you yourself would not want to have an abortion is anti-feminist (although Phillip will never be in this position himself), but wanting to restrict the rights of other women, to force women to give birth against their will, that is fundamentally anti-feminist and anti-women.

kate // Posted 13 August 2009 at 12:19 pm

Thanks to Jess for actually sharing an experience of an abortion without phrasing it as the “hardest decision you’ve ever made”. I still think it’s incredibly difficult for women to admit to not feeling weighed down by the enormity of their “choice”. For me I know it wasn’t a “choice”, it was just a no brainer. (That could be because by the time I actually needed it I’d spent many years subconsciouslly weighing up the option, as well as studying the area.) However, it feels like there’s no room for that kind of opinion in the debate as it risks feeding into all the fake stereotypes of feminists as cheerful baby killers.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 August 2009 at 1:26 pm

@kate Personally, I think it’s important to make it clear that women have abortions for a wide variety of reasons, and have a wide variety of attitudes to and feelings about it once they’ve got through the experience. We can’t let the anti-woman right frame the debate about this as though it’s a universally accepted truth that abortion is always difficult and always traumatic (while recognising that it is for some women).

However, you’re right, ‘personal stories’ and case studies in the mediia about abortion overwhelmingly focus on those who have regrets, or feel conflicted, and very rarely tell the stories of women who are completely happy with their decision. Irina Lester wrote about this for us a few years ago, and her piece still stands. zohra’s post about this during last year’s attack on women’s right to choose is another good resource, and you might be also interested in Siún’s article about the realities of the situation in Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal. Abortion Rights is another really good resource.

Phillip Blond said:

I would argue that a plural and free society should be able to maintain a place for a Catholic vision of the nurture of children that thought that though men and women are equal they are nonetheless different and as such both contribute something unique that is particular to their sex to the rearing of children. The idea that in a free society this difference of conscience should not have a place is what I was objecting to.

We wouldn’t allow a secular adoption agency to discriminate against same-sex couples, so I don’t see why it should be acceptable for religious adoption agencies to discriminate. It’s the outcome (discrimination and withholding of adoptive families from children) which is the problem, not the motivation. Running an adoption agency is meant to be in the best interest of the child, and ultimately if fit adoptive parents are being ruled out because they happen to be a same-sex couple, then that’s not on.

Laine // Posted 13 August 2009 at 3:44 pm

I completely agree that adoption agencies should act in a non-discriminatory manner and have no claim to exemptions to equality law. In defence of the Catholic agencies they are often dealing with ‘hard to place children’ that the Local Authorities can’t find families for. I used to work for a Catholic agency, and the children and families were from a diverse range of background, and faith was unimportant. The agency acted as a secular organisation, and we dealt with very few Catholics, apart from a rare few where the birth family had specified that they wished for their child to grow up in a Catholic family.

There was a time in the agency’s history where they would have only dealt with Catholics, and obviously over time this altered to broaden their scope in terms of religion, allowing sole adopters etc. While this was a (presumably) organic transition, I think the move to approving gay adopters did require the legislative change in order to speed things up. I worked there a few years ago, when they were still referring gay people to other agencies, but since the law changed the agency has formally disaffiliated with the church. This has resulted in no practical changes, with no resignations from Catholic staff.

The staff (of all religions and none) are child-focused rather than being inspired by any religion. I think most of the noise on this issue was coming from the traditional church hierarchies, and not from the people actually doing the adoption work. These agencies are rooted in a past where churches did a huge amount of charitable work, and they are often the oldest and best resourced. They need to change, but their expertise shouldn’t be lost.

To be fair to the church, in this case they still provide free office space for the agency, so some liberal voices in the church must be being heard.

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 August 2009 at 3:54 pm

@Laine thanks for that insight, it’s very interesting!

But it also makes it all the more inexplicable to me what the fuss is all about. After all, if the agencies were applying some sort of Catholic criteria to their adoptions, then at least it would be consistent. But if they’re happy to adopt children to atheist or Jewish or Muslim couples, or sole-adopters (by which I’m assuming you mean single parents?) even though these things also contradict their beliefs, why are they still singling out same-sex couples.

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