It’s the Tory conference circa 1992 and the Social Security Secretary Peter Lilley one of the new breed of right wing reactionary Thatcherites is working the crowd like it’s a Nuremberg rally; he performs a pastiche of Gilbert & Sullivan’s song from the Mikado “I’ve got a little list of those who would not be missed” his version has the following line “young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue” This was the Tories at their populist worst. Remember Edwina Curry brandishing handcuffs from the platform and screeching like one of the women at the foot of the guillotine; knitting and cheering to the sound of the Tumbrels, it was that kind of atmosphere. Single mothers were always one of the Tories favourite easy targets and it appears that today they still present a soft option for aspiring politicians with ambition, ambition’s the thing of course that did for Julius Caesar so; step forward Tom Harris Labour MP for Glasgow South, an apparent admirer of the opinions on single mothers held by the right wing Tory Peter Lilley, yes you read that right I said a Labour MP Mr. Harris is a Labour MP.
The Evening Times records him thus “young mums are a drain on society - teenage mothers living off the state are nothing other than a catastrophe - teenage girls should not be collecting benefits or having under age sex – they make no effort to achieve any qualification” It appears that this obdurate outburst came about as a result of Mr. Harris’s wife being put through the ordeal of having a teenage mother put in the next bed to her in hospital after both had given birth. Can you imagine the horror of it? The trauma of having a young girl and her new born infant put in a bed near you, we can only try to imagine what the young mother and child must have been like to provoke such an outburst, at least we can be grateful that Mrs. Harris and baby Harris survived this ordeal.
Mr. Harris and I are members of the same political party; Labour; and I have said often that it is a broad church Mr.Harris certainly proves that OK, I don’t know him and I don’t know why he is a member of the Labour Party but I know why I am. I am a member because I’m a Socialist and that means that my political stance is to help those less well off in society such as single teenage parents not to condemn them and moralise about them in an arrogant outburst of superiority. His remarks could have easily come from a Tory backwoodsman instead of from a Labour MP; he doesn’t make a single remark about how teenagers find themselves in such predicaments, no attempt to help; just condemnation, no comment about sex education or the treatment of women by our society either, as someone else once said “there is no such thing as society” right Mr. Harris? I wonder how you get on with members of your CLP. how did you ever get elected as a Labour candidate?
Raising a child is a difficult job; more so if you are a single teenage mother; N.B. it is very rarely ‘single teenage father’ Mr. Harris has nothing to say about that either, young mothers in such circumstances need encouragement and help not condemnation, like others who do not conform to what some like to call normal society like same sex couples, elderly siblings or teenagers on benefits they are all families. The idea that young girls should be punished by the removal of benefits because they have had a child is outrageous; it’s the world of the poorhouse; a Dickensian obscenity and the idea that a Labour MP is suggesting such a thing beggars belief.
To decent people everywhere; to young struggling single mothers everywhere, to people who love them and their children, to those who help and rally round them, to the vast majority of our fellow members of society, I want to say that Mr. Harris does not speak for the Labour Party, the day that he does on such matters will be the day that I leave.