Friday, 30 September 2011

If you like their voters so much, why don't you join them?

So, Ed Miliband MP, leader of the Labour Party, has declared "I want Conservatives voting for us – that's how we win elections".

It's worth noting that "getting Conservative voters" has generally worked out far better for the Conservatives than it has for Labour, and the Conservatives haven't managed to get a convincing election victory since 1987.

I've previously noted that charging past the centre ground in an attempt to give your opponents no space for their own policies is extremely risky: any political opponent thinking long-term will respond by becoming more extreme so that the centre of politics gets shifted towards them.

However, it's not even good short-term strategy at the moment.

There's some interesting recent polling on how likely people are to vote for various parties. It's only a rough guide, of course - note that at least 43% of people will always vote either Labour or Conservative, but only 36% would never vote Lib Dem. So at least 7% of those polled will always vote Labour or Conservative, except for those times not counted in "always" when they occasionally vote Lib Dem. However, with those caveats...

42% of people would never vote Conservative. 42% of people is enough to win a UK election on its own with a massive majority - and in practice Labour could pick up considerably more than that from people who might in theory vote Conservative but aren't doing so this time.

The calculation in "Principles or Power" regarding two-party elections (and, with First Past the Post, most crucial marginal seats can be simplified to two-party) means that it can be more effective in terms of short-term votes to move towards your opponent than away from them - every voter you convince directly from your opponent is worthwhile provided you don't lose two voters to apathy or minor parties in the process. The 2:1 ratio is what makes this so powerful for short-term electoral success.

Labour, however, has been moving towards the Conservatives for quite some time now, and is running in to diminishing returns.

YearConservative votersLabour votersTotal voters
19979,600,94313,518,16731,286,284
201010,703,7548,609,52729,691,780

During the entire protracted recovery from their disastrous defeat in 1997 to their partial victory in 2010, the Conservatives gained only a million votes.

Labour lost almost five million in the same time period.

Very roughly, their net losses were:

  • 1 million to the Conservatives
  • 1.5 million to the Lib Dems
  • 1.5 million to declining turnout1
  • Less than 1 million to minor parties

Conservative voters who voted Conservative in 1997 are probably completely unwinnable for Labour. So, at most, Labour can recover 1 million votes by getting former Conservative voters - and that's in a best-case landslide victory scenario. They would need, on 2010 figures, to win almost all of them to have a plurality of the popular vote, assuming they don't win over anyone else.

They're not, as far as I can tell, trying to win over anyone else with their policy announcements.

The alternative strategy has far more space to work - there are almost 4 million voters there, most of whom left Labour for a left-of-centre party2 or now don't vote at all.

In a situation with turnout generally declining, there's a huge opportunity to not only win, but win by a landslide, by getting those voters back3. The Conservatives - thanks to Thatcher - are vastly unpopular with most of the country; despite their many failings, Blair and Brown did not make Labour "toxic" in the same way.

These are the voters who would respond most to a party in complete opposition to Conservatism - not to a faint attempt to cosy up to it4 and pick its pockets.

Sadly, deep down, "just to the left of the Conservatives, but definitely not the Conservative Party", is where Miliband and the rest of the senior figures in Labour want to be.

Footnote

1 Some of this decline in turnout, of course, will be because many of those who voted Labour in 1997 were dead in 2010. But in normal conditions they should have been replaced by newer voters, since the size of the eligible electorate has increased slightly. As it happens, turnout has plummetted, as fewer voters see the point any more.

2 No arguing over whether the Lib Dems count as left-of-centre... For the period 1997-2010 they were generally left of Labour on a wide range of issues: I doubt there was that much Labour to Lib Dem swing from people who thought the Lib Dems were to the right of Labour on their preferred issues.

3 While FPTP gives disproportionate importance to the votes in a few Conservative-Labour marginal seats, a party that is a few million votes ahead in total is still unlikely to lose the marginals.

4 That's not to say that Labour shouldn't be trying to convince swing voters and moderate Conservative voters that Labour's policies are good for them, or be explaining its policies in terms that resonate with them. Absolutely they should. There's a big difference between that and changing policies to the right to be closer to what those voters currently want, though.

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Friday Links

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Eviction of people loosely connected to a riot.

Here's the consultation on eviction of social tenants. Question 1 is perhaps the most important question, which would allow social landlords to evict tenants where they - or a member of their household - was convicted of certain violent crimes anywhere in the UK. Got to keep the tabloids happy.

Wandsworth and Southwark councils are trying to get ahead of the consultation, and are just doing it anyway. An actual law explicitly allowing it would mean that the only practical challenge might be to the European courts - well beyond the financial and legal means of most social tenants.

Here's what they're proposing.

We are therefore proposing to include additional provisions in Ground 2 of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1985 and Ground 14 of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988 so that the court may grant possession where a tenant or member of their household has been convicted of violence against property (including criminal damage and offences such as arson), violence against persons at a scene of violent disorder or theft linked to violent disorder. There would in these circumstances be no requirement that the offence had been committed within the locality of the dwelling house, subject to it being committed in the United Kingdom.

Note that violence against persons must be connected to "a scene of violent disorder", but violence against property need not. Well, property is more important than people to the government. We knew that.

So, here's my response to that suggestion.

Question 1: No. The current grounds for possession should not be extended in this way. Where a tenant has been convicted of a serious crime, there already exists legal mechanisms for them to be fined, imprisoned, or given a community sentence - whatever the court believes appropriate in this particular case.

A major problem with eviction as proposed is that it makes all members of the household responsible for the behaviour of all other members of the household. Where the eviction applies to long-standing anti-social or criminal behaviour committed in the immediate locality of the housing, then requiring this mutual responsibility may be justifiable in some cases - other members of the household may have been aware of the anti-social or criminal activity for some time, and been able to discourage or prevent it. However, a de facto requirement for all members of a household to keep a sufficiently close watch on each other so that they cannot possibly commit criminal offences elsewhere is not justifiable.

Forcing someone to lose their tenancy in response to criminal behaviour committed by a fellow tenant completely unrelated to the housing or their own actions seems completely unjust, and would seem to open the landlord to challenges on human rights grounds.

Furthermore, it brings about perverse incentives. Other members of the household who might ordinarily testify against a person accused of criminal offences would in this situation know that doing so could result in them losing their own tenancies! The temptation to help the accused construct an alibi would be very great.

A third problem is that the original power, by applying to criminal or anti-social behaviour in the vicinity of the housing, has an important use in protecting others living in the same housing from this behaviour - though, as paragraph 1.5 of the consultation document points out, it may sometimes only move rather than solve problems.

Where applied to crimes committed a long distance from the housing, this use vanishes. The crime is not connected to the housing, so removing the tenants from the housing cannot affect the crimes. The convicted tenants have to live somewhere, so removing them from their present housing will make little difference.

Imprisonment is already available as an option to the courts where someone needs to be removed from general society to prevent crime, and this is both more appropriate and avoids punishing people who did not commit the crime.

If you have time, please read the consultation document and send in your own response. I know I haven't covered everything that's wrong with the proposals in mine. With the riots falling away into the distance - and the underlying causes ignored to produce more later - the need to do this to appease the reactionary press might be avoided.

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Monday, 26 September 2011

Review: "Yes, Prime Minister"

"Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" were among my favourite TV shows when I was younger, and have continued to be so. When I heard that there was a stage play being produced, again written by Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, I knew I had to make an effort to see it.

After all, what could go wrong?

Quite a lot, as it happens...

[trigger warning: child sexual abuse]

The play is in 2 acts and lasts approximately 2 hours. There are approximately four scenes (or three scenes, one cut in half by the interval), all set at the PM's office at Chequers. The programme talks about the changes in the process of government since the original series was written, and the decline in the power of the civil service due partly to MPs bringing in special advisors - SPADs - represented in the play by the character of Claire Sutton, and partly to the efforts of Thatcher and later Blair to break their entrenched power.

The first scene sets up a typical situation, easily recognisable in the style of the original series. Hacker has organised a conference between EU states to discuss the economic crisis, and it's not going well. However, help is at hand, as the oil-rich fictional former Soviet state of Kulmenistan is offering a multi-trillion Euro loan, in exchange for the construction of an oil pipeline and the future purchase of their oil.

The conflict between Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker appears out of this - Sir Humphrey has tried to hide in the loan terms British entry into the Euro, which Hacker strongly opposes. Bernard's conflicted loyalties to his two bosses are well characterised, and Claire's entry as the special advisor helping Jim get the better of both Humphrey and the press seems to be setting up further inter-character conflict, and introduce a new source of humour.

In the second scene - and the third scene which continues it after the interval - however, things take a very different turn. This is the "darker and edgier" Yes, Prime Minister ... and it all goes very wrong.

As the conflict between Jim and Humphrey grows, and the BBC phone with requests for Hacker to appear on a "Government in crisis" TV programme, Bernard rushes in with bad news - the Kulmenistan foreign minister, staying overnight at Chequers, has demanded [trigger warning] to be given an underage girl to rape1, with the strong implication that the loan deal - and with it the European economy - will be dead if he doesn't get his way.

So ... the next hour or so is mostly jokes that are either directly or indirectly about rape. That - as well as being generally unpleasant - distracts from the satirising of political life. There were plenty of other issues the writers could have used to convey the moral dilemma - can you secretly and illegally sacrifice an unwilling individual to save a country - which would have fitted more closely into the atmosphere of the first scene.

It's at this point that the characterisation falls apart. Bernard - having been established to be torn between his loyalties to his bosses - never has to make that decision again in the entire play. Claire's antagonism with the civil servants, too, is forgotten, and her brief appearances in the first scene have to suffice for her character development. Since even long-term fans of the series will never have met her before, she ends up unable to rely on merely re-establishing an existing character, and becomes rather 1-dimensional as a result.

Hacker - portrayed in the TV series as well-meaning, but rather out of his depth at times among the civil servants and press - is exposed in the play as solely concerned for his career, and incredibly misanthropic. The original Hacker was trying to do the best for the country - the Freedom of Information Act, for instance - and the corruption of power, and trying to avoid press scrutiny, came with that. He was naive and frequently outclassed, but not incompetent. The new Hacker is solely interested in being Prime Minister so that he can be Prime Minister - he appears to have no particular goals in mind other than that. He's arrogant and ruthless - but also incompetent: the complete opposite of the old Hacker. Is this complete personality reversal Claire's doing? If so, that didn't really come across.

Now, admittedly, there are quite a few professional politicians whose sole goal seems to be self-perpetuating electability - it's not unrealistic as such - but it doesn't work here. Unless you can sympathise with Hacker, and view him as someone who is trying to do good despite the situation he's in, then why should you care when Humphrey foils him, or cheer on the rare occasions he gets a small victory?

Humphrey himself seems hopelessly outclassed by this new ruthless Jim Hacker, and unable to defend himself against Hacker's repeated - and monotonous - threats of bringing in a Civil Service Bill. Surely after the first time he'd have started considering ways to counter this "ultimate weapon" of Hacker's? Why does he even continue helping Hacker at this point, rather than taking the rather obvious opportunity to rid himself not only of Hacker but of Claire Sutton too, in exchange for a more pliable PM?

Meanwhile, the focus of the show shifts from character-driven conflict between the four principal characters, to them working together to decide whether or not to provide the foreign minister's victim, and having decided fairly quickly to do so, considering the logistics of doing so and getting away with it. In the end, the foreign minister gives up on them and goes to sleep long before they themselves give up on the idea.

Then, of course, there's Kumranistan itself. You keep hoping for some kind of twist ending, where the foreign minister and ambassador were testing their host's moral courage - but no, everything is exactly as it originally seemed in that regard. The country could easily have been called Generistan (they're all interchangeable anyway, right?) - it's a simple caricature of an eastern Islamic dictatorship.

Where the characters - mainly Hacker - used racist slurs, they were generally called out on it by the other characters. Unfortunately the same can't be said about the setting details and plot, or the rest of the character's interactions. The inconsistency of calling out slurs but condoning treating foreigners lives' as worthless2 may theoretically have been an intentional point - but given how unsubtly most of the other hypocrises and moral issues the play raised were highlighted, that seems unlikely.

The eventual solution to the original problem of the failing conference - distract the press from it with an unrelated policy announcement - does return to the show's roots quite well, in a short few minutes in the final scene, but this could have happened at the end of the first scene with no real loss of continuity. It's as if the writers, having written a good 40-minute show, that would have made an excellent start to a new TV series, realised that they needed to fill in an extra 80 minutes of play, and lacking any better ideas filled the majority of it with rape jokes that went precisely nowhere.

Near the end, Bernard laments that he thinks he has lost his moral compass. The play's problem is that it does the same. A promising start very quickly hit the bottom and kept digging.

Footnote

1 The characters, despite spending most of the play talking about or around the topic, of course never use the 'r'-word. Not even Bernard, who is the most uncomfortable of the four with the idea, and attempts to discourage it, will call it what it is.

2 Hacker's remaining moral issues with providing the foreign minister's rape victim are resolved when he realises that she doesn't have to be British, and suggests finding a trafficked foreign prostitute instead. He then without a second thought or a hint of moral conflict has the girl he was considering sending to the foreign minister arrested by the military police as a terrorist suspect, solely to save his own career.

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Monday, 19 September 2011

"Genuine and continuing"

In my earlier post on consultations, I found one by the UK Borders Agency on family migration.

If you're interested in that area, and would like to encourage the government not to put too many additional barriers in the way of bringing families together (family values, right?), then it's worth completing the consultation if you have time.

The first question is complex enough in itself. From the consultation document, emphasis mine:

2.8 Migration based on marriage or partnership must be based on a genuine and continuing relationship, freely entered into by both parties. It must not be based on a marriage or partnership of convenience, entered into in an attempt to gain immigration advantage. And it must not involve coercion.

This seems all very well, but the problem that arises is what does "genuine and continuing" actually mean, beyond an "I'll know it when I see it" definition that varies depending on the views of the immigration officer in question. In practice there's a risk that relationships sufficiently different to a "default" relationship will be excluded, depending to at least some extent on the privilege and heterocentrism of the immigration officer.

So, it's understandable that the government wants to have a more formal definition1 of "genuine and continuing", and there would be benefits in the transparency of the process if they did - but of course I don't really trust them to get the definition right2.

The current rules significantly privilege people who are either married or in a civil partnership, or intend to do so in the UK. Coming to the UK to live together but not marry or enter a civil partnership is more difficult.

Existing marriages and civil partnerships are taken into account - but of course, there are relatively few countries where same-sex marriages are allowed at all, and many of those are inside the EU anyway.

If the applicants are not civil partners or married (or intending to become such), then they must have lived together "in a relationship akin to marriage" for at least two years, already in the UK.

"Akin to marriage" is an interesting term. In practice, it implies an exclusive monogamous relationship. Again, this gives an unusual inconsistency - someone could be in a poly relationship and able to sponsor a partner to whom they were married but who had been outside the country for years to come to the UK, but not a partner to whom they were not married but had spent several years living with in the UK.

A codification of the existing rougher standards would be very problematic. On the other hand, a codification of a broader standard could be very useful to families wishing to move to the UK.

The first consultation question asks how they could go about making a written standard for "genuine and continuing" relationships. I wasn't able to suggest an answer to that - how do you write a standard that isn't exclusionary? - but I did recommend some areas not to include in the definition, and that if they did make a definition, that was itself put to further consultation.

Footnote

1 This of course doesn't just affect migration - if the codification of a definition of "genuine and continuing" appears "successful" to the government when used there, it may well be extended to other areas of government work.

2 And in the current anti-immigration political climate, they have quite a bit of incentive to get it wrong.

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Friday, 16 September 2011

Monday, 12 September 2011

Government-mandated weight. The inevitable consequence.

[trigger warning]

Unfortunately, I'm not at all surprised that this has happened. A UK Council is taking steps to have four of a family's seven children forcibly adopted (or fostered without contact).

Why? Because the children are fat, and have continued being fat against the local government's demands. Clearly the solution is to take them away from their parents - and perhaps away from each other, too - in the hope that the massive added stress will cause weight loss.

According to all the press reports, the family have "faced no accusations of deliberate abuse or cruelty". Their solicitor has previously stated that "obesity was the main reason for the children being taken from their parents".

The rather flawed research on "obesity" is a contributing cause, but this goes way beyond that. I'm unimpressed with the government's research on "obesity" in children. But, even if that research is accepted at face value, the only detectable effects of "obesity" in children are "low self-esteem and behavioural problems" and a greater chance of being "obese" in later life.

On the basis of that research - even accepting that research as high quality and accurate, which I don't - there is absolutely no cause for intervention in this case. Either:

  1. Weight is largely not under a person's control. In this case, adoption won't change their weight. But it probably will harm their psychological state, especially since there's no reason to do it. Despite this stance being supported by the scientific literature, "everyone knows" means that more likely the council believe option 2...
  2. Weight is entirely under a person's control. In this case, the effects of being heavy at their age are comparable to the effects of being adopted. There being no evidence of abuse or cruelty, the only effects are psychological - which must be compared with the psychological harm of adoption, including the effects on their older siblings. The children, when they get to adulthood, can then "choose to be thin" and suffer no long-term effects.

In either case, there's no reason to forcibly remove them from their family. Which should be obvious.

The only case where it isn't obvious is where you believe that "obesity" is basically an evil zombie cult. Fat people will exist near you and brainwash you into being fat. It's therefore imperative to get those children who could be un-brainwashed away from their family as soon as possible. Accepting that premise, Dundee Council's actions seem reasonable.

It's also not impossible that the Council's actions have been completely misreported. With multiple news entries several years apart, a verifiable trail in public record for at least some of the events, and several different news organisations covering this in different ways, though, that seems less likely. The Council hasn't denied any of it - merely issued a vague statement that "The council always acts in the best interests of children, with their welfare and safety in mind." which seems to be the well-known PR tactic of "lying outrageously" rather than a severely misreported case.

Big Fat Blog has contact details for four senior Council officers. I've sent them the following message.

Dear Sirs,

The recent news that Dundee Council is planning to place four children from a family of seven to either be adopted or fostered without contact, for the sole reason that they are heavier than the Council approves of, and in the absence of any deliberate abuse or cruelty by their parents, are, if accurate, extremely disturbing.

I hope that if the press reports are accurate you will be reconsidering this decision and the policies which led to it immediately, as it seems to me to be a strong infringement of the family's rights, and not in the interests of any of their seven children.

I realise that you are unable to comment on the details of any individual case for the family's privacy, and so therefore I am confining my questions to general Council policy. If the reporting is inaccurate, then your policies should provide sufficient evidence of this without the need to discuss this specific case.

1) Under what circumstances, if any, does the Council take the weight of a parent or child into account when deciding what interventions are necessary?

2) Under what circumstances, if any, would the Council require an individual to alter their weight?

3) If there are any circumstances as described in my first two questions, could you explain the reasoning behind these policies, and provide me with any research used in developing these policies.

Thank you

Since I don't live anywhere near Dundee, which is itself in a different legal and administrative jurisdiction to my own, I doubt I'll get a reply.

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Saturday, 10 September 2011

Regional variation in rape prosecutions.

[trigger warning]

The BBC has collated statistics from all English and Welsh police forces to compile data on rape investigations. A spreadsheet (Excel) with the full data is available.

In summary - and much more details below: there is massive variation between police regions in how well rape cases are handled, but if every force followed current "best practice", then over 40% of reported rapes could result in the rapist being convicted.

The BBC's angle in the reporting is in the massive variance in "no crime" classification of reports. This is an update of very similar research they did, which I wrote about briefly two years ago.

As in the BBC's previous study, and as in earlier similar studies carried out by the Fawcett Society, the main finding is of massive variation from region to region.

Reporting rates by region do not vary significantly - though there is a little variation between Cheshire (0.17 per 1,000 population) and London (0.43 per 1,000 population).

On marking reports as "no crime", the rate varies between 2.4% in Gloucestershire and 30.0% in Kent. A small number of "no crimes" is expected - Kelly, Lovett and Regan's 2005 study gives several good reasons (other than the stereotypical "false accusation") why this might occur. However, it's clear from the discrepancies that a lot of police forces are heavily overusing this method of closing a case.

The "sanction detection" rate also shows significant variation between regions. This is the rate at which reported cases result in either a charge against a suspect, or the police formally cautioning a suspect. (The latter is relatively unusual in rape cases, though still uncomfortably common).

In Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire, only 11.1% and 11.8% of cases include a "sanction detection". In Durham, the figure is 60.8%, and in South Wales, 49.8%. Again, there's clearly a major difference in procedures.

Once the case has moved to the CPS for prosecution, there are again regional variations. Ignoring Lincolnshire as an outlier, as the police are clearly only passing the most obvious of cases to the CPS there, Nottinghamshire CPS drop 36.3% of cases before court. Dorset CPS only drop 5.4%.

Then, in court, the conviction rates again vary - Surrey, Dyfed-Powys, and Hampshire have conviction rates in court less than 60%. (Dyfed-Powys occasionally get confused and prosecute the victim instead). Meanwhile Warwickshire, Devon and Cornwall, and Leicestershire are able to secure a conviction in around 85% of court cases (not always for rape, though - sometimes for lesser offences).

Multiplying the various attrition rates together isn't completely valid (the figures for prosecutions are not for the same cases as the sanction detections) but gives a rough indication of the combined effectiveness of the local police and CPS, without having to do the massive longitudinal studies that Kelly, Lovett and Regan did, where there is almost a five-fold difference between the most and least effective forces. (Since this is only a rough estimate, I won't name the 'best' and 'worst' regions)

Baroness Stern's report on rape prosecutions strongly noted that investigation and prosecution would be considerably more effective if everyone just followed the guidelines that had already been written.

Cross-tabulating the various figures against each other suggests that - with the exception of a few outliers such as Nottinghamshire - the effectiveness of the CPS in prosecuting cases doesn't depend much (or even at all) on what proportion of cases the police pass to them. In other words it is generally not the case that the police referring more cases to the CPS will just lead to the CPS either dropping those cases or being unable to secure a conviction.

We can therefore also look at a theoretical "best" region, which improves its "sanction detection" and "conviction" rates to the best found in real regions, by application of best practice.

The result of this is not particularly surprising, perhaps. The theoretical "best" region - merely on current best practice in policing, investigations, prosecutions, and court cases - would be able to secure convictions, if not for rape then at least for some sexual offence1, in around 40% of all reported cases.

Furthermore, best practice is continuing to improve - that "theoretical" figure is itself noticeably increased from even two years ago.

It wouldn't be impossible - police forces have made significant improvements in only a few years before - for that 40% figure to be achieved by the end of this decade. If that doesn't happen, it will be solely because it wasn't considered a high priority.

I'll be writing to the Ministry of Justice (responsible for the CPS) and the Home Office (responsible for the police) soon to ask what plans they have to ensure that under-performing police forces are rapidly brought up to the level of the best.

Footnote

1 In practice, around half will be for lesser offences.

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Friday, 9 September 2011

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Abortion rights - convince your MP: this could be a very close vote

More anti-choice work from the usual suspects, in the continuing attempt to gradually introduce US-style "you can only have an abortion if the moon is full on a Tuesday with the agreement of three doctors, two vicars, and a greengrocer, with a 32-hour waiting period" restrictions to the UK.

More information at Abortion Rights and The F-Word.

If you are a UK citizen or resident please write to your MP and ask them to vote against these amendments if they are discussed at Report Stage.

Initial assessments in the press suggest that the amendment might pass but by a very narrow margin. It is therefore crucial that pro-choice MPs are reminded that they need to turn up and vote against it, that wavering MPs are convinced to vote against it, and that anti-choice MPs are given sufficient doubts that they abstain.

You can get a rough idea of how MPs are likely to vote at Public Whip - anyone who voted 'No' on that vote will likely vote 'No' on the amendment too. However, it's quite possible that many of those who voted 'Yes' can also be convinced to vote 'No' this time. If your MP isn't newly-elected, then you may be able to use this information to tailor your letter to their views.

Also potentially in our favour is that the Health and Social Care Bill itself is highly controversial - it has already been returned to Committee for a massive rewrite once, after major public objections and serious Lib Dem uneasiness with its content. Adding an entirely separate controversial issue to it has the potential to wreck the whole Bill, and this may explain the news that the government is now unlikely to support the amendment.

Nevertheless, we can't take any votes for granted.

Here's my letter.

I am writing concerning the amendments proposed by Nadine Dorries MP and Frank Field MP to the Health and Social Care Bill.

The amendments would prevent any non-NHS body that provides termination of pregnancy (including those providing those services on behalf of the NHS) from also offering counselling to women considering abortion.

This principle - that advice should be given by someone entirely unrelated to the provider - is not demanded, and nor should it be, for any other medical procedure.

Furthermore, women seeking abortions who feel that they would like counselling already have the choice to go to any provider that they wish to, and can already choose a separate provider if they feel this would be beneficial.

These amendments act to reduce their available choices, but also - by requiring women who would not otherwise do so to seek out a separate provider for advice and counselling - will increase the time between a woman deciding to obtain an abortion and actually being provided with one. Since the earlier an abortion can be carried out, the easier and safer it is for the woman concerned, this is extremely unhelpful.

Field disingenuously portrays this as being similar to advice on pensions, where there is a conflict of interest if the company selling the pensions is also advising customers on their choice of pensions. However, this reveals more about the mindset of the amendment's sponsors than about the real situation:

  • medical care is not a commercial product, and it is considered beneficial for all other medical procedures for advice to be given by the provider of the procedure. Termination of pregnancy is no different.
  • counselling is explicitly not about giving advice, but about allowing a client to come to their own decisions.
  • neither the NHS nor non-governmental abortion providers have an interest in maximising the number of abortions carried out (unlike a pension company which does have an interest in increasing the number of pensions it sells)

The amendment is based on a transparently false caricature of the motivations of medical professionals, and a massive underestimation of the ability of women to make decisions about their own bodies.

I ask you to please vote against these amendments if they are discussed at Report Stage on the 6th and 7th September, and to encourage your colleagues in all parties to do likewise. It is also rumoured that the Department of Health intends to implement some or all of the measures set out in these amendments without the need for legislation, and I therefore also ask you to put pressure on the Department not to do so against the will of Parliament.

Thank you

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