Blame lads' mags for irresponsibility - Gove

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Indy Politics

Publishers of "lads' mags" should be held to account for encouraging irresponsible young men to view women as sex objects, the Conservatives said today.

Senior shadow cabinet member Michael Gove said titles such as Zoo and Nuts reinforced a "shallow approach" to women, and linked them to a rise in feckless fatherhood and family breakdown.

In a high-profile speech on family and society, Mr Gove also accused Gordon Brown of undermining communities through an obsession with state control.

Mr Gove said the Tories saw stable families as a "route to greater equality and opportunity" and pledged to support them through the tax system.

He told the Institute for Public Policy Research in London: "Helping adults commit and stay committed not only opens the door to a depth of emotional enrichment which a series of shallow and hedonistic encounters can never generate, it also provides the best possible start in life for children."

The drive to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies should be focussed on making young men face up to their responsibilities, he said, beginning with lads' mags.

"I believe we need to ask tough questions about the instant-hit hedonism celebrated by the modern men's magazines targeted at younger males.

"Titles such as Nuts and Zoo paint a picture of women as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available.

"The images they use and project reinforce a very narrow conception of beauty and a shallow approach towards women.

"They celebrate thrill-seeking and instant gratification without ever allowing any thought of responsibility towards others, or commitment, to intrude.

"The contrast with the work done by women's magazines, and their publishers, to address their readers in a mature and responsible fashion, is striking.

"We should ask those who make profits out of revelling in, or encouraging, selfish irresponsibility among young men, what they think they're doing.

"The relationship between these titles and their readers is a relationship in which the rest of us have an interest."

In his wide-ranging speech, Mr Gove said Labour's use of central targets and Whitehall control for public services had led to distant government lacking a "human face".

Mr Gove used former prime minister Baroness Thatcher's controversial declaration that there was "no such thing as society" to attack Mr Brown.

"There is nothing in what this Government is doing to show it understands how to respect devolved government, that it appreciates the need for local government to go its own way, that it comprehends how its policies are reducing social capital, that it realises how the loss of local services weaken community relationships or that it even begins to appreciate how the demands of the centralised bureaucracy are eroding the civic, the local and the voluntary.

"And that's because, I fear, for Gordon Brown, there really is no such thing as society - only the individual and the State."

In the keynote speech, shadow schools secretary Mr Gove said the education system was failing people from deprived backgrounds, leading to greater inequality.

"The sad truth is that if you are eligible for free school meals you're almost 200 times more likely to leave school without a single GCSE pass than you are to get three As at A-level."

He said schools were becoming "Starbucks-style" outlets delivering "pre-packaged learning" because of state control and promised the Conservatives would deliver greater parental choice and more freedom for headteachers.

Mr Gove said there was a "growing breach" between the rich and poor and called for a better relationship between those at the top and bottom of society - like "the John Lewis partnership".

He added: "But I do believe that we need to ensure that with a culture which encourages, facilitates and celebrates success there's also a parallel culture of responsibility, reciprocity and respect.

"Of those to whom much is given, much is expected."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: "Michael Gove really has to be careful not to denigrate the high quality of education in England's schools, in order to make his arguments.

"Schools are tired of being described as failing by politicians who simply want to create clear water between themselves and other parties.

"While he is right to highlight the vital need for good local schools, his proposals to increase choice and diversity of schools is diametrically opposed to that idea.

"His proposals to increase choice and diversity and introduce a form of quasi-voucher will undermine the social capital that he argues for and increase social segregation.

"All the international evidence he refers to points to the damaging effect of choice and diversity on the efforts of countries to meet all children's needs."