Before this week few outside politics had heard of the Tory MP Danny Kruger. Now, thanks to the venomous power of the internet, he has become an unlikely poster-boy for the groundless but popular idea that American abortion politics is heading to the UK.
What got Kruger into hot water was a short Commons speech in which he questioned the belief that women have ‘absolute bodily autonomy’ when they are carrying a child, because ‘another body is involved’.
Now, you could reasonable read the ‘absolute’ line as simply a reflection of the law, which proscribes abortion after 24 weeks (with some exceptions). Others, however, saw something far darker at work.
Author JK Rowling tweeted that Kruger’s remarks were ‘proof, as though it were needed, that women’s rights are under attack across the developed world’. Columnist Caitlin Moran claimed that ‘this is how it started in the States’ – a refrain which says far more about our unrequited obsession with America than the likelihood of anything actually changing in the UK.
It’s even been suggested that if the Government repeals the Human Rights Act, that could be the precursor to a US-style attack on abortion rights. Never mind that the 1967 Abortion Act was passed 31 years before the HRA – who needs facts when you can have feels? Never mind either that the Prime Minister, who has rather more influence on policy than a single backbencher, called the Roe verdict a ‘big step backwards’.
If anything, the intensity of the reaction to Kruger’s comments is ample proof of how different this country is to the US. Over there, (mainly) Republican politicians fall over themselves to tout their pro-life credentials. Here, Kruger’s speech attracts vitriol because we’re really not used to even discussing the whys and wherefores of abortion.
As our deputy editor Alys Denby noted in an excellent piece this week, none of the major parties has the slightest interest in revisiting this issue, given that 85% of the public support women’s right to an abortion. (Remarkably, one reader replied to Alys’ piece claiming it was part of a ‘stop abortion lobby’.)
More broadly, the reaction here to the Roe decision, and the abuse heaped on Kruger, are both examples of a much broader tendency to claim that catastrophe lurks around every corner.
You see it in the commentators, including esteemed historians, who earnestly told us that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was the first step on a road to ‘fascism’. Or remember when they told us the arrival of GB News presaged a Fox News hellscape of ultra-partisan political broadcasting (it hasn’t).
The desire to believe the end is nigh combines some of the great political pathologies of our times: safetyism, tribalism and what you could call hero-ism.
The first two are easy enough to explain: tribalism demands that we show our colours not by the quality of our arguments, but by the intensity of our anger and alarm at what The Other Lot are doing; safetyism demands that even the perception of a threat is treated as though it’s a grave risk to people’s wellbeing. We see it everywhere from political hyperbole to ‘trigger warnings’ to public health zealots suggesting too many Frosties might cripple Our NHS.
What about hero-ism? It’s certainly not the same thing as heroism, which involves actually doing things. Hero-ism is, rather, the desire to be in the vanguard of some revolutionary, history-defining moment, even if the actual moment in question is taking place thousands of miles away in a country with an entirely different political culture.
Of course, it’s not that we don’t have manifest problems to rail against, just that they tend not to be as dramatic or eye-catching as some might prefer. So we sit like boiling frogs as it becomes ever harder to own a home, raise a family, enjoy a functioning health service or, indeed, a criminal justice system that routinely fails women. Put in that context, the highly fraught cultural battles are less the great issues of our age, than a distraction from what we ought to really be worried about.
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