We have ways of making you have more babies

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The Independent Online

Spanish politicians are resorting to bribery. So is the government of Singapore, although the amount – a bonus of £115 a year for a second child for the first six years of its life – is characteristically stingy.

Spanish politicians are resorting to bribery. So is the government of Singapore, although the amount – a bonus of £115 a year for a second child for the first six years of its life – is characteristically stingy. If cash incentives don't work, there is always the fear factor, with childless women being bombarded with statistics about their increased risk of breast cancer.

Carrot or stick, the message is the same: we have ways of making you have babies. In future, every infant born in the developed world can be confident that he or she was a wanted child. By the state, that is, if not by their parents. Only 10 years after the biologist Edward O Wilson described population growth as a "raging monster", we are being warned about a catastrophic drop in birth rates: the world's population is expected to grow by only 1.23 per cent between 2000 and 2005, and in many European countries it is expected to fall. A predicted fall of 0.02 per cent in Spain has prompted the Socialist Party to offer women £2,000 for their second baby and £4,000 for any subsequent child.

But if you fondly imagine that governments all over Europe are developing family-friendly policies out of sympathy for working mothers, think again. It is far more likely that we are witnessing an old-fashioned panic, fuelled by anxieties about national identity and women's roles.

With a total population of six billion, the world isn't really short of people; nor is it likely to be so for quite some time. But the "wrong" people – non-white, non-European – are having babies, which is why politicians are resurrecting pro-natalist schemes pioneered by fascist governments such as Franco's Spain.

The cheering thing is that it isn't likely to work. Educated women in affluent countries tend not to want more than one or two children, and we have embraced reproductive technologies that allow us to postpone getting pregnant or to remain childless. It was only a matter of time, I suppose, before there was a backlash.

How else to explain the reaction to discoveries about a link between delaying motherhood and breast cancer? "Young women who delay motherhood and drink heavily are doing everything wrong to reduce their risk of breast cancer," an epidemiologist said last week.

The notion that the victim is to blame reminds me of the early responses to the Aids virus. Until the scale of the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa began to emerge, many gay men with HIV were blamed for their "unnatural" sexual practices. Women are anxious enough about breast cancer without being told the disease is our own fault.

IDS is playing a game with children

Until a couple of days ago, I didn't know that Iain Duncan Smith was married, let alone that he had four children. Now, following an interview in which he accused Tony Blair of exploiting his family, I know all about them. There's Edward (14), Alice (12), Harry (11) and Rosanna (8), while his wife Betsy is a peer's daughter and the seventh cousin of the late Princess of Wales. All of this emerged as a result of Duncan Smith's vow never to expose his family to the media spotlight, which suggests that he has a great deal to learn about the press. Or that he is even more desperate to make himself interesting than anyone had imagined.

Fantastic fantasy, Nigella

Women tend to think wide hips are "not only the most terrible aesthetic disaster but also some kind of moral failing", according to Nigella Lawson. Posing for American Vogue, the domestic goddess provided a confused account of her relationship with her body, saying that she doesn't mind "the fact that I'm not lean and firm" but does mind putting on weight. This bout of self-deprecation was followed by the assertion that she isn't perfect but a "real person" – the kind who cooks in an evening dress, keeps live chickens on the cooker, and just happens to encounter a famous photographer in her kitchen. It happens every day if you live in West London.

* * *

If ever there was a policy designed to annoy both sides in a debate, it must surely be the announcement of a further six months' consultation on hunting with hounds in England and Wales. And yes, before you ask, I am as fed up with the subject as anyone else. But the only reason we are still wrangling about it, after nearly five years of Labour government, is Tony Blair's endless procrastination. Like a woman in a bad marriage, who can't quite summon up the courage to get out of it, the Prime Minister has come up with one delaying tactic after another. By putting off the decision, he simply ensures the worst possible outcome, which is that both sides keep organising campaigns and talking about it ad nauseam. Just get on and ban it, Tony.

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