Matthew Norman: Teenagers: Go forth and multiply

Morality is not set in stone, but a pendulum that swings to and fro with the passage of years
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The Independent Online

Now that members of the public are asked to nominate "ordinary people" for gongs, I'd like to be the first to urge Her Majesty to give a Damehood to Julie Atkins in her Birthday Honours. Not, in truth, that there is anything remotely ordinary about Mrs Atkins. Far from it, she is among the greatest role models of British motherhood today (and of grandmotherhood too, come to that; and, going by the form book, great grandmotherhood as well before too long).

Now that members of the public are asked to nominate "ordinary people" for gongs, I'd like to be the first to urge Her Majesty to give a Damehood to Julie Atkins in her Birthday Honours. Not, in truth, that there is anything remotely ordinary about Mrs Atkins. Far from it, she is among the greatest role models of British motherhood today (and of grandmotherhood too, come to that; and, going by the form book, great grandmotherhood as well before too long).

The soon-to-be Dame Julie is the proprietress of what has come to be known as the Derby "baby factory" - the council house shared with three teenage daughters who each has a child of her own. Jemma, although the youngest, was first out of the traps, conceiving the 15-month-old T-Jay at 12. Next up came 15-year-old Natasha, who produced Amani six months ago, and within a month slow-coach Jade, 18, was safely delivered of Lita.

There are those, it must be admitted, who cannot share my admiration for this brood. Taking a dim view of the Misses Atkins's diet of underage sex, and a dimmer one still of their mother, they are led, as always, by the Daily Mail, that fearsome self-appointed guardian of a morality which (if it ever existed at all) expired many years ago.

The Mail's power to inflame public outrage and terrorise government ministers on such issues is far too formidable to be conveniently ignored. It is never so happy as when unleashing such ferocious puritans as Melanie Phillips to reprise her much loved Cassandra act over two pages of hilariously rabid doom-mongering, in which she warns that the Atkinses and their ilk are driving Britain towards anarchy.

Meanwhile, the paper approvingly quotes a certain Dr Adrian Rogers, of the demented pressure group Family Focus. In allowing her girls to have sex at home, insists Dr Rogers, Dame Julie is guilty of "a clear case of crass stupidity".

This tiresome tortologist crops up from time to time playing King Canute, albeit without that late monarch's unrecognised grasp of irony, wishing only to reverse a tide of adolescent coitus he believes is undermining the very fabric of society (whatever that phrase may mean).

The era to which he and the Mail so yearningly look back is, of course, the 1950s - that golden age of respect, conformity and outside loos when people were hanged by neck and state until they were dead, when the Krays only done it to their own in rare moments snatched from helping old ladies cross the Old Kent Road, and when pubescents didn't have babies because their foetuses were butchered from their wombs by back-street abortionists.

It is the sovereign belief of every generation that the world of two generations before was infinitely superior to its own, so doubtless in 2055 the Melanie Phillips de nos jours will be thundering away about the Nirvana that was the Noughties. And who can blame her? The epic poets of ancient Greece were driven by a sense that theirs was an age of decadence, whereas a few decades earlier the globe was stalked solely by titans and heroes.

Now, as ever, it is the way of the world to romanticise the past, denigrate the present and fear for the future, and where more than here in the global capital of nostalgic self-delusion? It is futile, then, to point out to the Melanies that morality is not something set in stone, whether of the Mosaic tablets or the Victorian statue; but a pendulum that swings to and fro with the passage of the years. Barely more than a century ago, Queen Victoria herself took cocaine for period pains, and, long after, upper-class matrons could buy a form of heroin over the pharmacist's counter for their nerves.

What was socially acceptable then is wickedness now, and so it is with what the law obliges us to call "underage sex". As the epidemic of infertility afflicting women in their 30s underlines, the female body is designed to reproduce in its teens, as was once the norm, and while we might argue about the desirability of the 12-year-old mother, it does seem daft to see the indulgence of natural erotic instincts, however precocious, as a simplistic moral issue.

However, the reason to salute the Atkinses is social rather than moral. Whenever stories of "underage" mums or women raising 27 children on welfare surface, the adjective "feckless" is wheeled out. Pernicious cobblers. If there's one thing these selfless women have to the nth degree, that thing is feck, for they are giving their bodies for Britain as surely as any soldier in Basra.

Among the most disturbing problems society faces is a declining birth rate. Your nice middle-class, wannabe have-it-all mother simply isn't doing her bit. She might pop one out in the end, once Johnny Taxpayer has coughed up a good few thousand in IVF treatment, but one child per couple evidently isn't enough to maintain the population. These Atkinses, on the other hand, are lying back, thinking of England, and churning them out without bothering the fertility clinic.

By the time Jemma turns 21, she and her siblings should have produced a dozen paradigms of our happy multi-ethnicity, who will grow to be what projections insist we most sorely need - the manual workforce of tomorrow. It's no good the Melanies squealing one minute about government turning a blind eye to illegal immigration because there aren't enough natives prepared to do tedious, ill-paid work; and the next lacerating the Misses Atkins when they sacrifice a carefree adolescence to remedy this problem.

And how dare anyone regret on their behalf the loss of a future they clearly don't desire for themselves? What impertinence to imply they must be wretched rearing their babies in a Derby council house, when for all we know they might be blissfully fulfilled. What arrogance to assume that, simply for the want of nuclear family and a male role model, little T-Jay will grow up to be a drug pusher rather than another David Davis.

If motherhood is, as the Mail and Dr Rogers insist, the highest calling, are the three sisters to be dismissed as tragic victims for seeking it so young, any more than Joan of Arc is to be scorned for having the presumption to lead the armies of France when barely older than Jade Atkins?

Whatever the family gets in benefits should be trebled, their request for a larger home should be honoured with a compulsory purchase order for Beckingham Palace, and they should be invited forthwith to Downing Street to take tea with a grateful Prime Minister. For without them and their kind, the true fabric of British society - by which, of course, I mean profit-making business that relies on cheap labour - will be in real danger of collapse. It's time we gave up this futile attempt to impose our filthy petit bourgeois verities on people like the Atkinses, and recognised them for the heroines that they are.

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