Regardless of one’s view of the Brown government, it is generally agreed amongst people of progressive political views that the recent passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was one of Parliament’s better moments. Those who followed the debate will doubtless also agree that no harm was done to the bill’s passage by the sheer ineptitude of the campaign against it, which seemed to the lay observer to consist of dogmatic statements by conservative media figures and religious protesters waving placards covered in the usual bilious slogans. Furthermore, the leading figures in th anti-choice campaign were the most extraordinary collection of political gargoyles, with all the media appeal and rhetorical skill of chimpanzees throwing faeces at the camera. Except that the chimps would have been funnier.
Prominent amongst these desultory leading figures was the wacky Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire and political one-trick pony who seems to devote an eyebrow raising amount of time to campaigning hysterically against a woman’s right to choose. Dorries was thoroughly politically worked over by liberal commentators in the run-up to the Commons votes on the bill, notably (amongst others) via a deliciously forensic week-long online crucifixion by Liberal Conspiracy. Eventually she found herself under such sustained attack that she closed off the comments facility on her website (though she’d have had to stop buying the papers as well in order to escape completely). But she hasn’t gone away, of course.
Idly flicking around the internet this morning, I came across one of Dorries’ latest articles, in which she appears concerned that the bill’s allowing the use of human-animal hybrid embryos for research purposes will create a race of Planet-of-the-Apes style “Humanzees”, who presumably will then take over the earth and remove all God-fearing anti-abortionists from the face of history. Here’s an excerpt from her comments in the Commons, as recorded in Hansard:
The Department of Health has argued that the insemination of animals with human sperm could never lead to a viable foetus. How can it know? Surely the nature of science and scientists is that they are incredibly experimental and inquisitive and constantly attempting to push back the barriers. How do we know what this would lead to in one, five or 10 years’ time?
How indeed? I have no doubt that the armies of Dr Frankensteins who have been just waiting for the excuse to create of a boy with the head of a stag beetle were cheering maniacally at the failure of Dorries’ valiant attempt to foil their diabolical plans. Still, it’s good to know that she (and perhaps the ghost of Charlton Heston) will be there to fight tooth and nail against the hordes of tank-driving marmosets if they should ever come racing up the cliffs of Dover.
There is a more serious point here though. It really is a matter of some concern that someone so manifestly ignorant of the most elementary facts in a debate such as this should be allowed to become so prominent. Dorries’ level of argument is not so far different from that which one would expect to find in an Evangelical super-church in the southern states of the USA, and it represents a cheapening of political discourse for even a wrong-headed and socially conservative campaign such as that against the HFE Bill to have allowed her to achieve such prominence.
One useful purpose is served by Dorries and her ilk, however. What she reveals is the reactionary, irrationalist and atavistic heart of the anti-abortion movement, the creeping desire for clerical control of the state which underpins its machinations, and the loathing of social progress which many of its protagonists harbour. It is to be hoped that this movement continues to be led by such clownish figures as Dorries, because one led by a charismatic and articulate individual would be truly terrifying.