Tuesday, April 25, 2006


A Tory MP has presented David Cameron with the first real test of his pledge to create a more tolerant Conservative party. Philip Davies claimed voters were turning to the BNP because political correctness had left white Britons afraid of being 'sacked or locked up' for expressing their feelings on race. Davies said politicians were failing to debate asylum and immigration enough, prompting voters who felt ignored to turn to the far right. And he cited the suspension of a university lecturer who suggested whites were cleverer than black people, plus the unsuccessful prosecution of BNP leader Nick Griffin for allegedly inciting racial hatred, as incidents that caused voters to reject mainstream politics.

Davies, the MP for Shipley, North Yorkshire, said he would 'obviously' like his own party to talk more about the issue, but added that he believed Cameron agreed with him that tough immigration policies were crucial to good race relations. 'People feel nobody is standing up and talking about [asylum and immigration] issues. This whole thing about political correctness is a key driver of that. They feel the only way they've got now to express their opinions is to put a cross in a secret ballot for the BNP,' he told The Observer. 'The fear is if you are white and you say something that may be considered derogatory by somebody about an ethnic minority, you are going to be sacked or locked up.'

Labour MPs demanded the Tories disown Davies's views. 'If David Cameron wants to show that his party has genuinely changed, then he needs to take action against the extreme right wing in his own party,' said Martin Salter, the MP for Reading West. A Tory party spokesman said Davies was 'entitled to his views' but added: 'We don't accept that we haven't really dealt with immigration.'

Davies's intervention follows an agonised debate within the Labour party over the BNP, after the Employment Minister Margaret Hodge warned that eight out of 10 white voters she canvassed in her Barking constituency in east London had at least flirted with backing the extremist party - citing competition with asylum seekers for homes as a flashpoint. Some colleagues accused her of unwittingly worsening matters by publicising the BNP threat.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett said it would have been 'slightly more helpful' to have debated the issue well before next month's local elections. He conceded people were 'confused' about how council housing was allocated, telling The Observer: 'Over the last 20 years, we have moved away from the time-based entitlement for public sector housing to a points-based system or even a bidding system. That has confused people in terms of who is entitled to what.' Blunkett also called on judges to consider the political consequences before making decisions such as overturning restrictions on so-called bogus marriages or ruling that Britain must house jobless people from other countries, including those recently granted asylum. 'Far from giving people rights, it's more likely to give people justification for voting for a party or parties that would take away rights,' he said.

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The Brits in general are bird lovers so no wonder it had to be done while most people were still in bed

Pigeons at a market in Bolton were shot dead by marksmen using high-powered air rifles in an early morning cull. The 90-minute licensed cull followed complaints by traders and managers at Farnworth Market about high levels of droppings. A total of 40 birds were shot dead from 6am on Wednesday. Usually poison or even birds of prey are used to control roosting pigeons. Special nets were also put up at the market to cover its stalls. But Bolton council said it had no choice but to order a cull as a last resort after the situation worsened.

The council said the cull was carried out with the knowledge of the police to protect the public from health risks associated with bird droppings. It ended at 7.15am - and the council said another one could be necessary. A spokesman said: "It was decided to carry out the operation at 6am on a day when the market was not open to ensure there was no risk to the public or traders. Pest control officers were called in at the request of market management and traders."



Some excerpts from a BIG article:

In 1945 the British public sector abandoned the marriage bar, which had required female teachers and civil servants to stay single or resign in favour of male breadwinners. In the 60 years since, women's lives have been transformed, and, with them, family and community.

You might not think it-given the media focus on pay gaps and glass ceilings, and the Women and Work commission's recent finding that women in full-time work earn on average 17 per cent less than men-but for the first time, women, at least in developed societies, have virtually no career or occupation barred to them. The people most affected by this change, and the main subject of this essay, are professional and elite women. Women used to enter the elite as daughters, mothers and wives. Now they do so as individuals.

This marks a rupture in human history. It is one that has brought enormous benefits to many people, and to many women in particular. But its repercussions are not all positive, either for society as a whole, or for all women. We are no more likely to return to the old patterns than we are to subsistence agriculture, so we need to understand what the new female labour market means for all our lives.

Three consequences get far less attention than they deserve. The first is the death of sisterhood: an end to the millennia during which women of all classes shared the same major life experiences to a far greater degree than did their men. The second is the erosion of "female altruism," the service ethos which has been profoundly important to modern industrial societies-particularly in the education of their young, and the care of their old and sick. The third is the impact of employment change on childbearing. We are familiar with the prospect of demographic decline, yet we ignore, sometimes wilfully, the extent to which educated women face disincentives to bear children.

In the past, women of all classes, in all societies, shared lives centred on explicitly female concerns. Today it makes little sense to discuss women in general. Instead, they divide into two groups. A minority of well-educated women have careers. A majority do jobs, usually part-time, in order to make some money. For the former, there is very little, if any, disadvantage associated simply with being a woman. If they are equally qualified and willing to put in the hours, they can do as well as any man. Of course there are still individual chauvinists around, but the statistics are clear: among young, educated, full-time professionals, being female is no longer a drag on earnings or progress. But for the majority of women, this sort of life remains a fantasy. Their families are their top priority, they dip in and out of the labour market, and they are concentrated in heavily feminised occupations, such as retailing, cleaning and clerical work. Their average earnings-per hour and over a lifetime-are well below those of males. Ambitious graduates generally belong in the first group; all other women in the second.

This is a caricature-but not much of one. Academic experts on the female labour market occupy very different points on the political spectrum, but they agree on the polarisation of women's experiences. The feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, reflecting and feeding into a revolution in women's lives, spoke the language of sisterhood-the assumption that there was a shared female experience that cut across class, ethnic and generational lines. The reality was that at that very moment, sisterhood was dying.

Gender politics still encourages us to talk about women as a group with common interests and demands. Yet this is far less true today than when, as Kipling observed, the "Colonel's Lady an' Judy O'Grady" really were sisters under the skin. In The Gentleman's Daughter, her fine study of 18th-century elite women's lives, Amanda Vickery quotes one of her feminine subjects, writing that "my time is always imployed and if I do take a pen I always meet with some interrupsion." Once childbearing began, this would have been true for all classes. Only in a tiny number of very wealthy homes did servants free wives and mothers from the running of a household, in which the vast bulk of food and clothing was prepared from scratch. Nursemaids were a supplement to the mother, not a replacement; before aspirin, let alone antibiotics, women could expect to spend much of their time, wracked with anxiety, tending the sick....

One could interpret today's feminist assumptions as reflecting the appetite of global capitalism for all talent, female and male, at the expense of the family. Certainly our current economic arrangements offer precious little support to family formation. On the contrary, they erect major barriers in its way. We all know by now that in most developed countries, birth rates are well below replacement level. Less recognised is the massive change in incentives to have children. In the past, adults had no tax-financed welfare state to depend on. Their families were their social insurance policies: children paid. Today, they expect the state to take care of their financial and health needs when ill or retired, regardless of whether they have six children or none. The benefits we get are completely unrelated to whether or not we contribute a future productive member to the economy.

Moreover, our labour market, with its greater gender equality, makes childbearing a very expensive prospect for successful professionals. Rearing a healthy, balanced child requires intensive attention and large amounts of time, and is not something that technical progress is going to alter. The price of that time is especially high for high-earning, busy elite parents-female or male. If they give up or cut down on work, the opportunity cost in terms of income forgone and careers stalled is far greater than for an unskilled 16-year-old school-leaver. In addition, elite children are expensive. Children are dependent for longer, high-quality childcare is costly and formal education has become increasingly important as the route to success. Parents know this, and it explains why the professional classes devote so much money and attention to their children's schooling.

As the American economist Shirley Burggraf has pointed out in The Feminine Economy and Economic Man, the financial disincentives to childbearing have become so high for upper-middle income families that the puzzle is not why professional women have so few children but why they have any at all. She observes, "no society until recent times has expected love alone to support the family enterprise. To put it another way, parental love has never cost so much."

Value-based volunteering is giving way to professionalised organisations with public sector contracts, and personal fulfilment for both sexes is increasingly evaluated in economic terms. Yet we still rely on traditional values and emotions to produce the next generation. It is fortunate that children are so intrinsically rewarding or our birth rate would be far lower still.

The hard economics tells us that professional women will have to give up most if they have children, and so will be least inclined to do so. Highly educated women overwhelmingly stay in work and so pay little or no earnings penalty when they have children. But more and more of them in the developed world have no children at all. "The rich get richer and the poor have children" still applies; but this time around, it is women specifically that we are talking about. About 30 per cent of graduate women born in the early 1960s entered their forties childless. For graduate women born in 1970 (a substantially larger group) the expected figure is 40 per cent.

Unlike professional graduates, childbearing is a rational career choice for academically failing girls and one that a good many duly select, especially in countries where they are supported by the state. Among British women born in the late 1970s, almost half of those with no academic qualifications at all had their first child by the age of 20, compared to 1 per cent of those with degrees. Only 20 per cent of the first group, compared to 85 per cent of the latter, were still childless by their late twenties. There is no reason to believe that teenage and uneducated mothers are any less loving and devoted than others. But there is plenty of evidence that their children are likely to be relatively unproductive future citizens, less skilled in their turn, and more likely to experience unemployment.

Birth rates have been low before. The average proportion of women bearing children, and the average number of children per mother, is pretty much the same for those born in 1910 and those born in 1970. In between, of course, there was a baby boom. What is different this time, however, is the pattern of child-bearing. Today there is a very strong inverse relationship between education and childbearing. Last time around there was not.

Authors on the left find it especially hard to recognise that the occupational emancipation of women may create intransigent problems for the future of our societies. The IPPR think tank illustrates the problem. One of its most recent reports, "Population Politics," recognises the demographic crisis and calls sensibly for clear population policies. But in doing so, it manages virtually to ignore the well-established relations between education and childbearing.

Burggraf, in contrast, argues that the tension between the modern workplace and family wellbeing is real and irresolvable so long as our societies place no financial value on the activities that take place within the home. In her view, feminists and economists share the blame. For the feminist, unpaid home-based activity is labour performed under the lash of patriarchy. For the economist, unpaid work does not contribute to GNP and so does not exist .

Politicians, journalists and businessmen often emphasise the negative economic consequences of any barriers to female participation in the workforce, and of losing half the country's best brains to the kitchen sink. Of course they are right, and I am in no hurry to go back there myself. But it is striking how little anyone mentions, let alone tries to quantify, the offsetting losses (or "social externalities") when women choose work over family. This is stupid.

Women today are no more homogeneous a group than men, and the service ethic that traditionally supported civil society and public service has weakened. Families remain central to the care of the old and sick, as well as raising the next generation, and yet our economy and society steer ever more educated women away from marriage or childbearing. The repercussions for our futures are enormous, and we should at least recognise this fact

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