Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ignorant bully vs teenage parents

One of the many sad and pathetic things about Tom Harris MP slagging off teenage parents on his blog is that he obviously believes he is being brave by making these arguments.

Harris is a Member of Parliament earning more than 60 grand a year, his argument repeats comments which Tony Blair made a decade ago and in content and tone it regurgitates the prejudices found in most national newspapers on a daily basis. So you can see why, with allies so few in number and powerless in influence, he congratulates himself for having the courage to take on the powerful lobby group that is 16 year old girls who have children.

Having devoted a previous blog post to hurling insults at a woman with learning disabilities whose two year old son had recently been murdered, he turned his attention to teenage parents. His argument, such as it is, is that there is 'an army of teenage mothers living off the state', that this is a 'national catastrophe' and that it is 'morally wrong' for teenage girls to have children. It's not that he's got any ideas about policy changes that he'd like to see, although he is going to have a coffee with Frank Field, which I guess is nice. Instead he argues that the priority is to get away from the idea that right and wrong are meaningless and make it clear that teenage girls having children is immoral. It's an article with, by my count, two anecdotes and no facts.

He finishes by writing that, "it’s time to stop worrying about how people’s feelings might be hurt if we question the choices they’ve made. Because very often, those choices are wrong. And it’s about time we said so."

Fine by me.

I think Harris is assuming that people who disagree with him are uncomfortable with the idea of morality, of right and wrong. Some people might be, I'm not.

It is morally wrong for a Labour MP to write this kind of garbage. I don't know and I don't care if it is a genuine reflection of deeply held views or if it is a way for him to suck up to the right-wing creeps who leave comments on his blog, but it is revolting.

There are several words for powerful, middle-aged men who choose to pick on teenage girls, but the one which best sums up Tom Harris is bully. You will never, ever read him use this kind of language about anyone who has any kind of power or influence, it's always those who can't answer back who he chooses to pick on.

Tom has been an MP for years, and he represents hundreds of teenage mums in Glasgow South. But it sounds like he's never tried to get to know them, find out what the government could do to help them, or anything like that. Again, that's morally wrong.

And perhaps most depressing of all, there's the total lack of any kind of intellectual curiosity, or any sense that he might be interested in the research and evidence on this subject. Five minutes with Google would reveal that Tony Blair was talking about teenage pregnancies being 'a shameful record' ten years ago, that most teenage parents stay at home rather than getting a council flat and that most have little or no knowledge about the benefits that they'll be entitled to when they get pregnant.

He doesn't seem to know that a majority of lone parents work, that 60% of young women felt more positive about education after they became pregnant than before or that 79% said that motherhood had increased their determination to get a good job. He could have found all this, and much more, out if instead of writing his uninformed article, he had typed into his browser and read the articles on their website. He does, after all, get given tens of thousands of pounds to hire researchers who could help him find this sort of stuff out.

Tom Harris chooses to bully those who are weaker than him; chooses not to find out about how he could help his constituents; and chooses to remain ignorant about important issues like this one and so many others. Those choices are wrong, and it is indeed time that we said so.


At 7:29 am , Anonymous Paul said...

Well done. Beat me to it. I'll come at from another angle.

At 10:45 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know you're doing something wrong when IDS agrees with you...

At 2:14 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The timing of his little rant is curious; we are now firmly into a deep and serious recession and a Labour representative seems to think that the most serious moral issue of the day isn't unemployment, but this crap.
Though, frankly, I think it's more a damning statement on the state of political discourse right now than it is about Harris...

At 2:20 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking at the comments on his post is a strange, strange thing. I really don't understand why so many seem to think it sane to call what he wrote "brave"; attacks like that on single parents have been endemic (dominating, even) in political-media circles for longer than I've been alive and for longer than Harris has been eligible to vote.

At 2:26 pm , Blogger John Buckingham said...

Totally agree Don. The bizzare notion that simply by saying something is wrong we're halfway to resolving the problem does not seem likely to withstand empirical testing. You do wonder why MPs aren't made to do some training in social research on taking office - perhaps then we'd have a few less moral pronouncements and a few more ideas for tackling the risk factors for teenage pregnancy and for ensuring adequate support for girls in that situation.

At 5:01 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Don, Harris is correct !


At 8:27 pm , Blogger Andromeda said...

Followed you here from the Tom Harris blog.

has a few recommendations on what to do about single mummery inviting your comment.

(a) deprive a single mother of child benefit if she cannot produce a marriage certificate
(b) fine the single mother for producing an illegitimate baby, say £1000, if she does not name the father
(c) require her parent(s) to pay this sum if she cannot or will not
(d) fine the father of an illegitimate child a sum of money, say £1000
(e) require the parent(s) of that father to pay this sum if he cannot pay it himself
(f) require that the mother give up the child for adoption before more lives are ruined

At 10:07 am , Blogger Matthew Cain said...

I thought the comments not so much brave as completely foolish. There wasn't any real attempt to engage in the issues or consider any alternatives.


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