Wednesday 22 April 2015

The Hustings in Plato's Cave

Not long ago, I went to a hustings. What is a hustings? I'm glad you asked, for I had to myself. A hustings is a political meeting in which candidates for office sit at at table and present themselves and their ideas to the electorate. It might be sponsored by this group or that.

I was invited to go to a hustings sponsored by "Women for Independence" and the very unusual thing about it, I thought, was that only women were invited. The only men in the lecture hall were candidates. The other unusual thing about the meeting, for me, was that there was a cash bar open, and I was very glad of it, for I was hot and thirsty by the time I walked to the town and wanted a gin and tonic. The women could take our glasses into the lecture hall, too, to my great comfort and joy. I guess it never occurred to anyone that a fight could break out, "Women for Independence" (and I, a unionist) glassing each other left and right.

Being so much of a part of my new Scottish community as to attend political meetings is a great thrill for me. I have met very interesting people through politically active friends, people I would never have met through church or the university because, not to put too fine a point on it, these have mostly been left-wing, non-Catholic Scots. And being Scots, they are very friendly and chatty and enjoy a nasty bit of gossip or joke about some ideological rival, and it would never occur to me to contradict their political opinions or, indeed, to discuss them. I was a pro-life activist in ab*rti*n-mad Ontario and an orthodox Thomist at Boston College, and I have learned that the best way to get on with most people who hold left-wing opinions is either to keep my mouth shut, or to shut it at the least sign of trouble, or to agree with them as far as I can. After annoying people my whole life, I really do like getting along, to say nothing of feeling like I really do belong to my community, no matter what I think or believe.

At the hustings were a male Independent candidate, a female Labour candidate, a female Lib-Dem, a male Scot Nat, a male Green candidate, and a male Tory. The local UKIP candidate refused the invitation, and if he wasn't just booked up already, I can certainly see why he might have. Whereas Tories are feared and despised in most of Scotland as the great oppressors of our race, Kippers are mocked as racist English uber-Tory nutters.

The Independent candidate did terribly badly, poor man, despite saying up front he had not come from a privileged background. He was a unionist, which naturally put him at a disadvantage, but instead of trying to charm the "Women for Independence" he mulishly argued with them. It was rather like he was in some horrible pub argument instead of trying to win votes. His worst moments came when he said there was nothing wrong with the NHS in Scotland and that men and women already have equal pay. Great murmurings ensued, and the Independent looked vexed. By the end of the debate, his shirt was undone to the third button as if he were so clueless about his audience, he had resorted to winning our votes with chest hair.

The Labour candidate was shallow and glib. Whereas the Independent was no politician, she was too much of one. She played the "woman card" at once, jibing at the no-show UKIP man, saying that perhaps he thought we should all be at home cleaning behind our fridges. Ah ha ha ha. (Meanwhile, if she doesn't employ a cleaner, I will eat my kitchen sponge.) She told a lot of sob stories about what this sad man on the doorstep told her, and what this sad woman had told her, and wasn't it awful, and Labour would do something about it. And I thought, Labour has been in charge of this area for over 40 years, so if the area is miserable, that could be Labour's fault. Staggeringly, she spoke as if the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party) were the Establishment, which just goes to show the brass of the Scottish Labour machine.

The Lib-Dem candidate did very well. She spoke honestly and clearly, and never pulled any "women card" nonsense despite being deeply interested in such woman-dominated issues as respect and pay for caregivers. She had spent her life as a community activist and an environmental activist and as a carer for ancient parents, her children, etc. She looked like an aged hippy, but the kind that has kept the hippy faith since 1967 and you sort of respect when she turns out to be your new boyfriend's great-aunt. She wants to do away with oil, which seems impractical for the Scottish economy, however good for the environment that might be. Her audience thought it an admirable idea, however.

The Scot Nat candidate was very brainy. (Full disclosure: he is a friend of mine, a very decent and open-minded old bean who lost his temper with my conservative views only once, when I was very drunk and casting aspersions on Andrzej Wajda, of all people. He is deeply committed to social justice, including for the Middle Eastern Christians.) The Scot Nat was obviously an economist, for he talked a lot about numbers, and kept up a steady flow of facts, figures and concrete ideas and plans. It was slightly dizzying, but he was the only one who talked to the group of women as if we were actual thinkers, actually weighing ideas and proposals, instead of just having an interesting evening out, judging people on their performance.

The Green candidate also did very well. In the charm department, I would say that he won with the audience, and I was not at all surprised to find out afterwards that he had had a career in radio. A really splendid public speaker, and much too attractive in himself to need to undo his shirt buttons. Like the unbuttoned Independent, he hinted at a background of deprivation--and indeed the place he is from is deprived--although both are army/air force brats, actually, which can't be THAT horrible. He said the benefits system is broken, which it certainly is.

The Tory candidate was a walking Tory stereotype, and so I thought he was terribly plucky to show up and air all his unpopular views. He was young, callow and English and had the wrong accent for a chap announcing that his father was a "Tyneside shipyard worker." Apparently his family "worked their way up" from its working-class roots, which was not a felicitous thing to say to a left-leaning audience. (That "up" was a terrible blooper.). But at least he didn't describe welfare as a "begging bowl" like the Independent chap, eek. At any rate, he was almost charming in his apologetic stance although actually, now that I think about it, if he had been an Old Tory type, he would have been even more charming with it, like Clarissa Dixon-Wright. Maybe his accent was more Geordie than my untutored ear could detect, for he certainly sounded Public Schoolboy to me. At any rate, I would have liked him better if he had worn the Young Fogey uniform of tweed-wool-pullover-tie-and-red-cords instead of that horrible blue suit.

As for the ISSUES, the women  seemed to be most interested in improving life for those on benefits (welfare), in affordable housing, in the much-hated bedroom tax, in the much-hated Trident nuclear deterrence program,  in the proposed "right-to-buy" council housing at a tremendous discount which, of course, leads to much less council housing, in issues surrounding the aging population, in respect and decent pay for carers, in federalism (i.e. all the countries within the UK having home rule), in centralization (e.g. of the police force), in protection of historical landscapes (that was my question) and, to my great shock and discomfort, in ab*rti*n.

Blast. I had been having such a good time, too. Someone had to bring up aborti*n, and it wasn't even a pro-lifer, as far as I could tell, although I was busily trying not to listen because I was hideously embarrassed by what was about to happen.


To explain, the right-to-life is almost a dead issue in the UK. Despite the efforts of SPUC, legal ab*rti*n isn't going anywhere.  Women who want (or whose parents/partners/mothers-in-law want them) to get rid of the baby growing inside them have to get two doctors to sign the certificate attesting to this being a good idea, and technically a baby can't be ab*rted after 24 weeks or just because she is female. However, there are people who want to get rid of the checks and balances, and spare the doctors from all the winking-and-nodding going on, and just have ab*rtion-on-demand. The question at the hustings seemed to be about whether or not ab*rtion rights would be more or less restricted in Scotland if  the issue was devolved here.

By the way, here is an illustration of a living 24--no, let's make it a 21 week old unborn baby:

Anyway, one after the other, the candidates all burnt their pinch of incense before Moloch. I made my notes in thick uncompromising words and symbols: "Labour-pro-aborti*n; Lib Dem-ditto; Green--ditto; PC--pro-ab*rti*n, however doesn't want a change to the time limits, or there to be different time limits across the UK." (Scot Nat: There already is, i.e. Northern Ireland). The Scot Nat wants "termination" "evolved", whatever that means, and I bet it doesn't mean what I would mean. My idea of evolving the issue is extending human rights to all humans, especially before extending them to chimpanzees.

I didn't bother writing down what the Independent thought. And Labour got the microphone back so she could spout all the code words through her heavily lipsticked mouth: "It's not a health issue, it's a woman's issue." (The Lib Dem, who was not made-up, didn't feel a need to repeat shopworn slogans.) Then there was all the stuff about "human rights", such a sick joke to anyone who allows herself to admit that unborn babies are human and as such perhaps ought to have rights.

And I was sad because I was reminded that I live in a civilization that keeps two sets of books when doing the human life accounts. There is the book for expectant mothers who intend to keep their babies, and there is the book for unhappy women who want to have them removed. In the first book, the baby is a baby, and in the second book, the baby is an embryo or a fetus. In the first book, the baby is human, and in the second book, the baby is subhuman. In the first book, the baby is growing, and in the second "a pregnancy" is "terminated."

In British society, as in Canadian society, it is considered extremely rude to talk about unborn babies being killed, although that is exactly what happens to them, without anaesthetic--which might be an issue to the 2% of ab*rted babies killed at or after 20 weeks (i.e. an estimated 3,706 in England-and-Wales in 2013).* No decent Brit--the Brits love animals--would do to a frog what happens to unborn babies.

Of course, many doctors really, really hate doing those things, and although the time limit is (almost always) 24 weeks, I see that the NHS advises it before 12 weeks, and really would prefer before 9 weeks, when the pregnancy has fingers.

Well, I'm sorry to have brought up such an unpleasant subject, and I know all the counter-arguments about all the horrible things women will have done to themselves if they don't have access to "aborti*n services", and I am horrified that women have ever felt they "had" to do that, just as I am horrified that palliative care is still so unevolved that people want doctors to kill them. We should be creating a society in which women never want to undergo ab*rtions, for this is the only way to stop them. What would a world in which women never want to have them look like?

But the world we have now is the world in which we live, and justice includes admitting what it looks like, even if I kept my mouth dead tight shut at the hustings.

*Then again, it might not. So far as we know right now, we can at least hope that the poor things don't feel it.

Update: And here's a Canadian baby born during his 22nd week, just so you know.

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