Left-Wing for the Last Time

So we're about to have our first baby and I'm looking forward to finally abandoning these immature, even childish, left-wing convictions that I have held since my teenage years. It's about time I moved on, grew up and became am unthinking reactionary, and I'm already grateful to our forthcoming baby for helping me achieve this life goal.

At least, that's how I assume it works. It's certainly what that person on Twitter told me a couple of years ago when I argued we should not bring back the death penalty. 'What about for child murder?' said my interlocutor. 'No, not even for that.' 'You'd feel differently if you had children,' came the reply.

Maybe having children unlocks a secret part of your mind. Ideas that previously seemed obviously stupid will now seem brilliantly cogent. The secret logic behind right-wing bullshit are instantly disclosed to you. We all become like the kid in The Sixth Sense: I see dead arguments...

I've had quite a few conversations like that. It amazes me that people treat having a baby as if it by itself befits them to pass judgment on a great variety of social matters. It's there in that endlessly dreary sentence-starter 'As a parent..' as if this three-word clause is an open sesame that entitles the speaker to pronounce on the EU Referendum or the merits of an independent nuclear deterrent.

And the thing that I find really weird is that these claims that you'll become much more empathetic when you have a baby typically come from rather conservative people. Okay, this is anecdotal, but it's always right-wing people telling me I will become right-wing when I have a child. And that - of course - is a very selective attitude to what empathy means. Having a child will make me empathise with children, not with the murderer; with the people who needed protecting with Trident, not the people it will kill.

Now, of course, having a baby doesn't disqualify you from commenting on these things. It'sirrelevant, that's all. In fact - given the hilariously contradictory advice we've been given from various (lovely) people about feeding, sleeping and more - babies seem to be wildly different, which means that I'm not even sure having a baby makes you much of an authority on having a baby.

Like the rude simpleton I saw on the train two years ago who was singing along with her toddler in a quiet carriage - when someone asked her very politely to keep the volume down a little, she retorted 'She's my kiddy!' as if that's an answer to anything. I don't know why but some parents seem to treat their having had a baby as an enormous personal accomplishment that testifies to their greatness as a personal, when the evidence is that billions of people - geniuses and idiots alike - have had babies and it confers no automatic virtue on them.

This has all come up again because of the Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom who, in an interview with the Times, declared that having children gives her a special suitability to my Prime Minister because she has 'a very real stake in the future of the country, a tangible stake' and directly contrasted her position with the childless Theresa May: 'she possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children'. Andrea Leadsom quite rightly called the interview 'beyond disgusting', though her pitiful attempts to pretend she didn't say those things were undermined by the release of the transcript and the recording.

And do listen to that recording. You can hear that simpering sense of self-righteous entitlement all over the way she moves from the careless and dismissive 'nieces, nephews, lots of people' (that clumsily vague 'lots of people' tells us what little significance she gives to these other attachments) and then with the vaulting horse of the word 'but' she offers the treacly affirmation" but I have CHILDREN'.

What's so bad about that, though? Surely the kind of undoubtedly distinctive and unique love and responsibility parents have for their children has some kind of value. Is it unreasonable to think it might become some kind of rehearsal for a wider commitment to society?

Alas, yes, it's unreasonable. First because the evidence is that parenthood does not have that effect. If we're talking about Prime Ministers, the childless Ted Heath took us into Europe; the four-time parent Tony Blair took us into Iraq. Clement Atlee and Margaret Thatcher both had children: one built the welfare state, the other tried to dismantle it. Their various children seem not to have been decisive.

Second, because of Andrea Leadsom herself, whose possession of children seems not to have given her any empathy for homosexuals, whose marriage rights she refused to support, or indeed animals, given her vocal support for fox hunting.

Third, because the implication of this is that having no children makes you somehow less altruistic, less concerned for the future, gives you less of a stake in the world. And that, unfortunately, is nonsense and offensive nonsense at that. Think about it: all of us have hundreds of attachments throughout our lives - to friends, family, lovers, neighbours, other fans of Game of Thrones, fellow citizens, political bedfellows, Facebook friends, celebrities, Twitter followers, fictional characters, and even, if you're very nice, fellow humans. Why isolate one's feeling for our children? To single out your attachment to your children actually implies closing off of our sense of responsibility, not opening it out.

The pointis that even if it were the case that having children completely changes your view of politics (and, hey, that seems to me unlikely but possible), that doesn't say that your new view is correct that we become better people, more open, more caring. It seems just as plausible to say that parents become more selfish, more concerned to protect their children even at the expense of the wider good.

So quote these words back to me in a month, but I don't think becoming a father (touch wood etc.) is going to make me a better person, or a worse. What I do think, though, is that the way Andrea Leadsom views being a mother has made her a much much worse person.