Liberal Britain on Trial is a series of three programmes testing the proposition that the problems of modern society - identified by Nick Clarke as crime, family breakdown, divorce, delinquency and dependency on welfare - are the result of the nation having signed up to doctrines of individual freedom. Each programme is conducted, very loosely, like a trial - there is a prosecutor and a defender, witnesses are called and cross-examined, and every so often Judge Clarke says things like "Objection sustained". This week, the charge was "Sexual freedom has broken many of the links that bind society together and distorted relationships. It has undermined the family and corroded morality."
Of course, if this had been a proper trial there would have been some agreed standard of evidence, and Mary Kenny's case for the prosecution would have been thrown out in the first five minutes. She turned out to have no material evidence or witnesses with direct experience of the sexual freedom she was talking about. What she needed was some victim to point the finger and say "That's him! He's the one who ruined my life!" while in the dock Liberal Britain twirled its moustachios like wicked Sir Jasper. Instead, she produced Bob and Sue, who have had their ups and downs but have never regretted their 27 years of marriage, and members of an organisation called Youth for Christ who believe that sex is all right only within a context of emotional commitment. And of course, Mrs Atkins, asserting that to allow some freedom necessarily leads to unlimited freedom, including the freedom to abuse and murder children.
In addition to vacuity, we had self-contradiction: Ms Kenny herself suggested that marriage is necessary to tame young men, who would otherwise certainly be promiscuous (she pointed out that young men have 20 times as much testosterone as young women, which I had always thought was to do with testosterone being a male hormone). One of her witnesses, a barrister called George Brown, maintained that marriage was important because nature demands that children have a father. So which is it - is marriage there to thwart nature, or to fulfil it?
All in all, this was a fairly pathetic case, only watertight when it was circular (if you think marriage is necessarily a moral thing, then of course more liberal divorce laws are immoral), and never persuasive. Polly Toynbee, defending, spent most of her time leaning on the goalposts having a quiet chat with the linesman, only occasionally having to scoop up the ball and roll it back to the opposition, who mostly responded by running off up the field and scoring an own goal. On the other hand, it did make for riveting listening and reminded you along the way of the best justification for sexual repression: it's much, much funnier than anything that could replace it. But oops, I'm off to hide the photos - here comes the vicar.Reuse content