Leading article: Unequal rights

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The Independent Online

You don't need a highly-trained social researcher to tell you what every woman can tell you for free: that men say one thing in talking principle and do something entirely different when it comes to practice. But there it is in stark detail in the latest issue of the British Social Attitudes Survey. There is such a thing as "The New Man", in public protestation at least. Asked about their respective roles, only 17 per cent of those quizzed said it was the man's job to earn money and a woman's responsibility to stay at home. Twenty years ago that would have been nearly a third. But ask about who does the chores at home, and more than three quarters of those in a relationship said it was the woman who usually did household chores such as the laundry.

'Twas ever thus. Man, as Shakespeare so sagely observed, is a "giddy thing", ever wont to contradict himself. Ask us, as this survey does, whether we are concerned about the environment, and over 80 per cent of us say the current level of car use is having a serious impact on climate change. Ask us should the car owner be restricted, and a quarter reply, not at all. Ask if we are concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor, and the overwhelming majority say "yes". Ask if poverty is the fault of the individual, and over a quarter declare it is down to the laziness and lack of willpower of the poor themselves.

It's not very often that we feel sorry for our political masters, but when confronted with such contradictory opinions from the electorate, it's difficult not to be afflicted by a twinge of sympathy for those charged with making sense of it all.

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