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« What is 'one nation conservatism'? | Main | No, Mr Clarke: You didn't always want the Old Lady to dance alone »


James Hellyer

Ken Clarke was just interviewed on Sunday AM by Andrew Marr. After dismissing the flat tax as "something from the fringes of neo-conservative thinking," Clarke was asked about Dr Fox's comments on abortion. Clarke said that he disagreed with them and thought the current laws were right, although they may need to be looked at again.

Clarke then went further and dismissed Dr Fox as trying to import Bush-ite Republicanism, "something there's no place for in the UK, despite its appeal to a few of my colleagues."

Clarke further implied that Dr Fox had proposed to make this issue one of party policy by asserting that it should remain subject to a free vote. "Moral and ethical decisions should not be subject to party whips."

James Hellyer

Ken Clarke also said that his poistion was the same as that of Lord Steel, before demonstrating that he didn't know what Lord Steel thought by defending the current laws...

Lord Steel, of course, agrees with Dr Fox having himself suggested a reduction of the time limit to 12 weeks unless carrying the baby yo term would put the mother's life in danger.


That was quick, James!
Not Ken's best performance either. He is right though that the current Fox approach looks more likely to get him elected in America than here, but I think his approach is different to all the other candidates in that he is almost running a neo-con campaign. A risky approach, but as he was never going to be the favourite he had to decide how to run and his campaign makes him look like a very principled individual. Perhaps he'll be in favour of Flat Tax next.

Strange that with a doctor and a tobacco director the debate about the proposals on outlawing smoking in public haven't come up yet.

James Hellyer

I disagree that Dr Fox is running a Neo Con campaign, AnotherNick. He isn't importing Republican style politics, any more than Michael Howard was when he favoured reducing the limits in his pre-election Cosmopolitan interview. He was expressing a sincerely held personal view, not announcing a three line whip.

Abortion seems to be an issue where if your personal beliefs are not for maintaining or extending the status quo, people like Ken Clarke and organisations like the BBC smear you as being like the Religious Right in the US, and stress how such matters are issues of conscience, having previously demonised your position of conscience.

Coffee Monster

Despite the fact that DD and LF are both from the right of the party they clearly have very distinct ideologies. If I've understood correctly
David Davis: pro-abortion (effectively), pro-euthanasia, pro-death penalty.
Liam Fox: anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, anti-death penalty.

It is surprising that it has taken so long for the debate on these issues to surface. I worry that Liam Fox's US style politics may alienate voters who are socially liberal but support tough policing and fiscal conservatism. (Not that I'm trying to smear him or his views)

Selsdon Man

The flat tax is not a neo-conservative policy but a free market one. The earliest promoters of the flat tax were libertarian organisations like the Hayek Institute in Slovakia. The US neo-conservatives tend to be in favour of selective tax cuts.

Abortion is not a neo-con policy either. There has been a wide coalition of Conservative groups who advocate stricter abortion laws. Their main target has been the disgusting partial birth abortion. A 12 week limit is truly radical and would be difficult to get through even a Conservative controlled Commons.

It is only Dr Fox's foreign policy that can truly be described as neo-conservative. That is why he is so pro-Bush.


I think the whole aura of his campaign has similarities with the neo-con position, although I think his policies looking forward (ie. ignoring Iraq) are solid. I find his approach interesting, but i'm not opposed to it either. Might be good to have him still in the contest when it comes down to the membership vote. Certainly preferable to David Davis.

The Political Thinker

Personally I’m very much in agreement with Liam on his anti-abortion stance; in the past he has said he would like it done away with, and I agree, although he realises such an idea would never pass in parliament and doesn’t have sufficient public backing.

And I don’t believe it’s a neo-conservative stance at all, as many libertarians too want to abolish abortion. The abortion debate really depends on whether you believe the foetus is a person, and therefore abortion is equivalent to murder, or whether you believe it is a part of the mother’s body (in which case it is subject to her wishes).

Personally I wouldn’t classify Liam’s campaign as neo-conservative. You would certainly classify him as on the right, although many of his views would be appreciated and supported by both conservatives and libertarians. He has also started to talk about things which we haven’t heard from conservatives for quite some time.


In the same interview Dr Fox said he had "big reservations" about homosexual marriage, the sort of comment that made me leave the party. The right wing Christian moralising tone of Dr Fox's interview was very distasteful. The party alreay has a reputation for preaching at people it appears to dissaprove of. I have "big reservations" about importing US christian politics into the UK. I also have "big reservations" about a Dr Liam Fox led Conservative party. I would be very dissapointed indeed to see him anywhere near the last two.

Sean Fear

Politics is about (but not wholly about) moral choices, Midnight Blue.

Adrian Owens

Liam Fox is in danger of playing into the hands of those who favour abortion on demand with his stance here.

Any talk about abortion week limits immediately takes the debate into "hard case" territory e.g. young teenagers not realising they are pregnant before 12 weeks, handicapped babies not "detected" until mid-pregnancy etc, etc.

The lesson of the Alton Bill in 1988 and the subsequent change to the abortion time limits in 1990 is that this is a very dangerous route to tread.

In 1990 we had a reduction in the time limit for most abortions from 28 to 24 weeks which had no effect on the number of abortions, and at the same time more liberal abortion i.e. up to birth for "hard cases". The law was liberalising in 1990, not tightened as many think.

James, the danger of Liam Fox's position is demonstrated by your comment that David Steel also supports a 12 week limit. David Steel favours abortion on request upto 12 weeks i.e. easier than at present, and if one probed a little deeper in questioning him, I suspect he would want abortions after 12 weeks to be on the current basis. This is not the same as Liam Fox wishes, but it exposes the dangers of debating the issue in this way.

The way that the abortion debate should be reopened is by:

a) ensuring that all abortions only take place after full and informed consent is given. Women contemplating the procedure would have to receive information on the development of the unborn child.

b) a compulsory waiting period of 7 days between the information being provided and the procedure taking place

c) parental consent for abortion on girls under 16

All of these changes would come across as reasonable, and would enjoy support from some of those who are not ready for major restrictions on abortion. More importantly, they would start to confront head-on the abortion mentality prevalent in this country.

While I fully accept Liam Fox's long-held views in this area, this intervention indicates that he probably has not thought deeply about the issue.


I agree with you 100% on tactics Adrian and advocated the informed consent policy in my post of Thursday. It is still excellent to see Dr Fox raise the issue, however, and he deserves real congratulations for doing so.

Selsdon Man

The political thinker is right. Many libertarians oppose abortion - see

I agree with Adrian's comments but still advocate a shorter time limit, probably around 16 weeks initially. There would also need to be increased investment in the advisory and adoption services.

Midnight Blue


It certainly isn't just about moral choices, I would probably still vote for the party, as other things are obviously more important. I am just very worried about these moral choices becoming party policy and thereby preaching to people who will be offended and as a result may not vote for us

James Hellyer

But on issues like abortion, these things won't become party policy. Liam Fox said as much in the interview in question. He said that "In our party it's always been an issue of personal consciences rather than party policy, but I think that giving a lead is not a bad thing." So he would encourage a vote on the issue, but would make his own opinion clear.

I'd rather have leadership on principle like that instead of a shallow reliance on focus groups. After all, as Ken Clarke is fond of saying, people want authenticity from their politicians.

James Hellyer

Adrian, I can see your point about Lord Steel. The comments I was referring to were as follows:

"If it's simply the decision of the mother then the limit should be 12 weeks. I personally believe it's likely to happen.

"When we introduced the Act it was always the intention that the operation should be carried out as early as possible.

"Advances in medical technology mean that a large number of problems and abnormalities are now detectable at an earlier stage than they were in previous years. Also, a foetus can survive at an earlier stage than it could in the past."

I'd taken the later remarks in particular to imply that later abortion is wrong, because the foetus through its abililty to survive outside the womb, had become more human.

While Steel may favour earlier abortion on demand, if that is the position he takes it does mean that he would find it hard to oppose reductions in the time limits without seeming hypocritical.

In terms of the strategic approach you recommend, I am in agreement. Simply trying to change the limits would not in itself reduce the incidence of abortions (people would find excused to be special cases). Other measures including education, informed consent procedures and increased support for adoption services would also be required.


Liam Fox also gave very stong thinly veiled criticisms of Ken Clarke's tabacco interests. It was quite a good performance, but really someone like Fox would be better talking about issues that really matter.

Midnight Blue

Surely if the leader of our party gave a lead on an issue like this, it would appear (whether it was intended to or not) as if the party was telling individuals who happened to take a different view that they were wrong. Talking to my friends, the biggest negative the party has is that is appears preachy and dissaproving, reinforcing this unfortunate image would be a disaster.

James Hellyer

"Surely if the leader of our party gave a lead on an issue like this, it would appear (whether it was intended to or not) as if the party was telling individuals who happened to take a different view that they were wrong."

You can say that an opinion is wrong without demonstrating a lack of regard for the people who hold it.

Simon C


I think you are right - courage is becoming a hallmark of Liam's campaign. He is showing that he is prepared to confront unpalatable and difficult questions. Whatever your views on abortion are, he is surely right to say that the figure of 180,000 a year must give us all food for thought as well as challenging our assumptions about the health of our society. As Marjorie Wallace, of SANE, wrote to the Times last week, he has consistently supported Mental Health campaigners - not a fashionable or electorally attractive cause - but one he has been unafraid to use as a theme for his campaign.

Given the issues that face Britain, courage is a virtue we will need in our leaders. I would be interested to know how other bloggers think the various candidates have exhibited courage by their conduct of their campaigns so far.


Of course a leader is going to have to display courage.The Conservative party faces some very severe challenges in the months ahead and whoever wins will have to be very brave.
I'm not sure if Liam has really been brave so far.I'm not really sure that abortion should be a matter for party political debate and I thought his claim that politicians who criticised the handling of the Iraq war were undermining the morale of our troops there was a very cheap shot and unworthy of him.Having said that I may still vote for him if I have one.

James Hellyer

"I'm not really sure that abortion should be a matter for party political debate."

And Dr Fox didn't say it would be. Fox said such matters were issues of conscience, but that he would "give a lead". It would only be "party political" if people were saying it would be a manifesto commitment or subject to the party whip.

It is courageous to speak out on these issues, but because it inevitably leads the the dishonest spinning the people like Ken Clarke launched on yesterday.

"I thought his claim that politicians who criticised the handling of the Iraq war were undermining the morale of our troops there was a very cheap shot"

But an accurate one, nevertheless. The Telegraph cited officer saying they were being demoralised, because politicians focussed on the legitimacy of their presence in Iraq, rather than on what they should be doing there. That's just what's Clarke's big Iraq speech was guilty of.


I don't see what is in any courageous about giving his views on abortion.Perhaps it was a way of trying to curry favour with the Cornerstone group and get some votes from them.In any case I firmly believe that this is a subject for an individuals conscience and am not really interested in Liam or any other politician 'giving a lead' on the subject.
It was interesting that pro-Iraq war candidates such as Davis or Cameron have not tried to make cheap political capital out anti Iraq candidates as Liam did.I hope he doesn't repeat his foolishness.

James Hellyer

"I don't see what is in any courageous about giving his views on abortion."

It's courageous precisely because you are demonised if your views differ from maintaining the status quo. On which I refer you to Ken Clarke's cheap shots on Sunday AM and the Telegraph raising the spectre of the religious right (which, of course, had nothing to do with the article's author fawning over Davis at every opportunity).

"Perhaps it was a way of trying to curry favour with the Cornerstone group and get some votes from them"

That's a cheap shot, which ignores the fact that Dr Fox's views on that issue are ones of long standing and are on the public record.

"It was interesting that pro-Iraq war candidates such as Davis or Cameron have not tried to make cheap political capital out anti Iraq candidates as Liam did."

Apart from when David Cameron did, of course. And I note that you are avoiding the smallmatter of Dr Fox being right. Our troops were feeding back that they were demoralised by politicians dwelling on the legitimacy of the war, and thus underminig what they were doing there. That was just the focus of Clarke's speech.


Who's is demonising Liam James ,not me or anyone else as far as I know. He presumably raised the subject of abortion for a reason, I merely speculated that this may have been to get votes from the Cornerstone group.It was not meant to be a shot ,cheap or otherwise.
Our troops are hardly 'feeding back that they are demoralised by politicians dwelling on the legitimacy of the war'.Most soldiers I know are entirely indifferent to the views of politicians at best.I haven't seen the Telegraph article to which you refer but wouls suggest that if you are really interested in the views of our troops you should have a look at the ARRSE website.You might find it enlightening.
I haven't ignored 'the smallmatter of Dr Fox being right',I think he's wrong.

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