It wasn’t Howard Flight’s ‘first’ acknowledged gaffe – that was his statement in 2005 that an incoming Conservative government would make deeper cuts than those publicly announced. Michael Howard removed him as a Conservative candidate for that transgression.
His latest alleged ‘gaffe’ was to say that:
“We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive, but for those on benefit there is every incentive”.
Labour howled with outrage, the cry of ‘Eugenics’ went up, even the trade Unions became involved with TUC secretary Brendan Barber branding Flight “an insensitive throwback to the worst of 1980s politics”.
It was that word ‘throwback’ that made me sit up and take notice – for I happened at the time to be reading some background material on the original Mental Incapacity Bill – circa 1912. Regular readers will know of my obsession with the current Mental Capacity Act, and understand that I consider this sort of reading to be recreational!
If you want to know about eugenics, then I recommend ploughing your way through the Hansard record of the debates leading up to that Bill – in particular the ‘Feeble Minded Person’s Control Bill’ – you will need a strong stomach.
You see the unpalatable truth is that Flight’s comments on ‘breeding’ were a throwback – but not to Tory policies, but to early Labour policies and politicians whose language would make you wince:
There is only one fitting description; they are almost like human vermin. They crawl about, doing absolutely nothing, except polluting and corrupting everything they touch. We talk about the liberty of the subject. What nonsense! What waste of words! We ask that you should take these people and have proper control over them, because they have no control over themselves. They are verminous, dirty, with no idea of washing or cleansing themselves. Yet they are human beings, and you could, under proper control, so far improve them that they could be put to some employment, not enough to keep them—I never expect that—but sufficient to maintain themselves partly, and to give them a human existence which they have not got now. Above everything else, you would stop the supply of these children—a very important thing.
Yes, indeed – that was the Labour member for Woolwich Arsenal constituency railing against the Conservative member Gershom Stewart’s proposals for what we would now call the ‘underclass’. Labour were incensed at the idea of the feckless poor and ‘feeble minded’ being allowed to breed in uncontrolled fashion and wished them firmly locked away along with other ‘undesirable breeders’, such as homosexuals and criminals – one and the same thing in those days.
The Mental Incapacity Act was passed and used to lock up and prevent further ‘breeding’ by unmarried Mothers – the definition of incapacity was as loose then as it is today. It is the last Labour government which rewrote the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to allow women to be forcibly sterilised if so required under the additional provisions they gave the Court of Protection to dictate ‘welfare requirements and medical treatment’.
Beveridge, the apparently revered Father of the Welfare State, wanted to suffer the unemployed:
“With complete and permanent loss of all citizen rights — including not only the franchise but civil freedom and fatherhood”.
It is not the ‘nasty Tory Party’ that is being associated with Eugenics through Flight’s words, rather it is the Tory Party not wishing to be associated with the eugenical and disdainful attitude of the Labour Party towards the ‘feckless underclass’ that caused Cameron to disassociate himself from Flight’s words.
That does not distract, however, from the plain fact that flight’s words were actually true. We have two sources. The impeccably independent Institute for Fiscal Studies which concludes that:
The probability of having a birth increased by 1.3 percentage points among the low education group, equivalent to a 15 per cent increase. This equates to nearly 45,000 additional births.
And (hat tip to Burning Our Money):
Who published this graph showing the correlation between areas of high benefit dependency and higher than average births to unmarried Mothers.
So – Flight spoke the truth, but the reality was that Cameron didn’t want to be associated with any suggestion of a connection between his party members and Labour’s belief in the Eugenics movement.