It was obvious on Friday that the Government were putting out anything they possibly could in order to close down the negative press reaction to the "granny tax" fiasco. The onslaught included Ministerial statements to the House, very rare on a Friday, which consisted of announcing controversial measures such as minimum pricing for alcohol and the announcement of Care Quality Commission (CQC) spot checks into abortion clinics.
A CQC investigation into a BPAS clinic revealed that the law was being broken as a result of two doctors' signatures not being obtained prior to an abortion being granted. A member of the CQC is reported as saying that every time they inspected a clinic and opened a cupboard, skeletons fell out. I first highlighted that this was happening on the floor of the House of Commons as far back as 2007. Dr Vincent Argent, a former director of BPAS told a select committee that forms were being pre-signed and stockpiled, but no one listened. I have brought the issue up face to face with Andrew Lansley and others Ministers, to no effect. So the fact that the CQC had suddenly been sent in out of nowhere had to have some meaning.
Last week it became pretty obvious that the Government has successfully managed, in pursuit of this new liberal conservatism to which the Prime Minister has signed up to along with the wealthy metro set, to upset much of mainstream Britain. Parts of middle Britain are becoming disenfranchised as a result of legislation which focuses on gay marriage, and the Government not supporting people to wear a cross and chain at work, liberalising Sunday trading, threatening to take away child benefit (and taking a very long time to reverse that threat for some families) not to mention the granny tax, cuts in defence, planning, the Health Bill, and refusing a referendum on Europe – all this has reached a tipping-point out in the country last week.
Many of us believe that if we introduced the Conservative policies which the country is screaming out for, things would get better and the Prime Minister's life lightly easier. George Osborne describes people who care about such issues as the Christian right. They are not – they are just normal people, the 70% that on the census form describe themselves as Christian. They don’t want to bang on about it or be given a Christian right label. They simply want to go about their business and have a government which represents their values. They are the 89% of traders who answered "no" in a Sunday trading poll, and every parent who saw their income about to decrease by £2,700 pa and every pensioner who spent Thursday worrying about how much money they were going to lose over the following year.
Given the way that Number 10 operates, they are very probably scrabbling around desperately in search of red meat to throw to middle England and the faith community who they have upset hugely. Did anyone ever stop to think that Christians and people of any faith may vote Conservative? Did they stop to consider that to send the Party Chairman to the Vatican and for the Prime Minister to deliver speeches urging Christians to speak out for their faith may confuse people at the very least as the government simultaneously introduces threats to religious freedom? At the very least the policy machine appears incoherent.
Could the CQC have been sent in to find dirt on the abortion clinics in order to justify an announcement on abortion? However, giving the CQC carte blanche to inspect abortion clinics isn’t enough. And Lansley delivering a Ministerial Statement to an empty House on a Friday just didn't hack it. In order for Cameron and Osborne to pull back the good faith they have lost they will need to focus on introducing a measure to reduce the upper limit at which abortion takes place from 24 weeks to 20, something which is long overdue.
In 2006 there were sixteen live births following a late term abortion during which the babies took between 42 minutes and two hours and 15 minutes to die. A distressing situation for all involved. The stalled consultation into independent counselling needs to go out now and be taken out of the hands of civil servants who have had a long-term procurement relationship with BPAS and other private providers – and are intent on distorting the document and kicking it into the long grass. The law needs to be enforced. If anyone breaks the ‘67 Abortion Act the full force of the legal system should be brought to bear rapidly and with force – as with any other law.
If those three measures were announced, the Government wouldn’t simply be reassuring the Christian community, they would send a message to the whole of UK that they are serious about women’s health. That they know that there are abortion clinics which act in bad faith and break the law. That they understand it is important with such a serious issue to restore public confidence – and who knows, we may even convince a few people that we actually believe in something other than the self-promotion of two over-privileged individuals.