Friday, January 15, 2010

House Points: Nick Clegg, Gina Ford and airbrushing

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Ford unpopular

Interviewed by the Sunday Times last week, Nick Clegg mentioned that he and Miriam had tried then discarded the methods advocated by the mother-and-baby guru Gina Ford. “It was like following a sort of Ikea assembly instruction manual. It made us feel strangely passive as parents.”

I doubt this was planned by Cowley Street spin doctors: it reads like one of those outbreaks of candour Nick is prone to (and which make insiders nervous). But readers’ comments on the paper’s website suggest he struck a chord with the public.

Perhaps there is a lesson here. Parenting is one of those subjects that people talk about all the time but politics hardly touches. And note that Nick was just saying what he thinks: he was not proposing a new law or telling anyone what to do.

This is ammunition for those who argue that not every Lib Dem Conference debate has to be on a policy motion. We don’t always have to promise voters two new Acts of Parliament and a Royal Commission.

I thought of this on Monday when Jo Swinson, who persuaded our last Conference to adopt a policy of obliging advertisers who use airbrushed photographs to declare it, had a Commons adjournment debate on the same subject.

She spoke well:
Hospital admissions for bulimia and anorexia among girls under 18 leapt by 47 per cent last year ... Media images are not the only factor responsible for that list of health problems, but they are a significant risk factor.


One study of girls aged from five to seven found that girls had less body esteem and a greater desire for a thinner body after exposure to images of thin Barbie dolls, compared with girls exposed to images of dolls with a healthy body size.

I am not convinced that legislation is practicable, but those who oppose Lib Dem policy have no alternative. Rather than offer another way of tackling the problem, they simply deny it exists.

A healthy society would have a whole range of institutions – schools, churches, youth organisations – where such matters could be discussed and some authority was lodged. In Britain today it seems to be the state and a new law or nothing. Which is why Nick’s remarks were so refreshing.

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