Kate Middleton: walking uterus!

The speculation about whether the princess is pregnant is a sad indication of the way we view our royals.

The speculation about whether the princess is pregnant is a sad indication of the way we view our public figures.

Kate Middleton, our princess of dreams, is slowly becoming dismembered. Just as her sister was reduced to a pair of ripe buttocks by the sexy gaze of the media back in April, now Kate faces the same Boxing Helena fate -- but her destiny is a walking uterus rather than a walking bum.

Photos of Kate last week showed that her hands were near her stomach. Aha! She must be preggers! Or thinking about a baby! Or about to pop one out on the sly! She once refused a peanut butter sandwich! Maybe she's pregnant! Maybe she's about to have the ROYAL BABY just after the ROYAL WEDDING! Hurry up, ma'am, and use your uterus before it runs out!

More prosaic explanations for the pictures -- for example, that she didn't have any pockets, so where was she meant to put her hands? -- could be swept aside. "So what's making Kate so happy?" nudged the Daily Mail, along with the Daily Express and Daily Star, who also carried the photo on their front pages. Maybe she'd met someone she knew? Maybe she was having a nice time? Maybe she likes doing princess things and being a princess? Aha, but with a wink here and a nod there, we get the picture: KATE MIGHT BE PREGNANT!

You might argue that that's all a princess of the realm ever is -- a pretty face, a nice wave and very little else; someone to wear pretty dresses and then squirt out a kid when the Crown demands it. You might say that's the career and the ambition that Kate M chose when she decided to become part of the cobweb-ridden old aristocratic family from her "common" roots.

I don't agree. Surely this person, regardless of whether or not she is a princess, is a human being, a woman with dreams and ambitions, a person with a being, with a soul? Well, it's just that we don't see William, Kate's husband, as essentially being a pair of testicles. We see beyond the gonads when it comes to him, and see a person.

We don't just think: oh come on, Wills, your role is to pump out some blue-blooded semen, so let's get on with it. We don't linger on photographs of his crotch, wondering whether he is about to produce the royal fluids to extend the family line. We just let him get on with it. But that's not a freedom that we extend to his better half: she is destined to be a barren womb, until such time as she becomes pregnant, and then that's that; her work will have been done.

There's another thing, too, aside from the fact we have barely moved on since medieval times in the way we view princesses. The post-Leveson landscape doesn't look spectacularly different from the Bad Old Days. As ever, speculation about the pregnancy (or otherwise) of a public figure is a rather unpleasant thing if that person in question hasn't chosen to make it public, or hasn't reached the stage at which such things should really be made public.

Surely such things are, you know, private, even for public figures? Or is every time Kate looks happy (or sad), or fat (or thin), or puts her hands near her belly (or not), going to be evidence that she might be up the duff? Is that what we've really come to, as a nation, in the way we see our public figures? If so, I find it all rather sad.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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A small dose of facts could transform Britain's immigration debate

While "myth-busting" doesn't always work, there is an appetite for a better informed conversation than the one we're having now. 

For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain. At the same time, public understanding of the economic and social impacts of immigration is poor and strongly influenced by the media: people consistently over-estimate the proportion of the population born outside the UK and know little about policy measures such as the cap on skilled non-EU migration. The public gets it wrong on other issues too - on teenage pregnancy, the Muslim population of the UK and benefit fraud to name just three. However, in the case of immigration, the strength of public opinion has led governments and political parties to reformulate policies and rules. Theresa May said she was cracking down on “health tourists” not because of any evidence they exist but because of public “feeling”. Immigration was of course a key factor in David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU and has been central to his current renegotiations.  

Do immigration facts always make us more stubborn and confused?

The question of how to both improve public understanding and raise the low quality of the immigration debate has been exercising the minds of those with a policy and research interest in the issue. Could the use of facts address misconceptions, improve the abysmally low quality of the debate and bring evidence to policy making? The respected think tank British Future rightly warns of the dangers associated with excessive reliance on statistical and economic evidence. Their own research finds that it leaves people hardened and confused. Where does that leave those of us who believe in informed debate and evidence based policy? Can a more limited use of facts help improve understandings and raise the quality of the debate?

My colleagues Jonathan Portes and Nathan Hudson-Sharp and I set out to look at whether attitudes towards immigration can be influenced by evidence, presented in a simple and straightforward way. We scripted a short video animation in a cartoon format conveying some statistics and simple messages taken from research findings on the economic and social impacts of immigration.

Targeted at a wide audience, we framed the video within a ‘cost-benefit’ narrative, showing the economic benefits through migrants’ skills and taxes and the (limited) impact on services. A pilot was shown to focus groups attended separately by the general public, school pupils studying ‘A’ level economics and employers.

Some statistics are useful

To some extent our findings confirm that the public is not very interested in big statistics, such as the number of migrants in the UK. But our respondents did find some statistics useful. These included rates of benefit claims among migrants, effects on wages, effects on jobs and the economic contribution of migrants through taxes. They also wanted more information from which to answer their own questions about immigration. These related to a number of current narratives around selective migration versus free movement, ‘welfare tourism’ and the idea that our services are under strain.

Our research suggests that statistics can play a useful role in the immigration debate when linked closely to specific issues that are of direct concern to the public. There is a role for careful and accurate explanation of the evidence, and indeed there is considerable demand for this among people who are interested in immigration but do not have strong preconceptions. At the same time, there was a clear message from the focus groups that statistics should be kept simple. Participants also wanted to be sure that the statistics they were given were from credible and unbiased sources.

The public is ready for a more sophisticated public debate on immigration

The appetite for facts and interest in having an informed debate was clear, but can views be changed through fact-based evidence? We found that when situated within a facts-based discussion, our participants questioned some common misconceptions about the impact of immigration on jobs, pay and services. Participants saw the ‘costs and benefits’ narrative of the video as meaningful, responding particularly to the message that immigrants contribute to their costs through paying taxes. They also talked of a range of other economic, social and cultural contributions. But they also felt that those impacts were not the full story. They were also concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on communities, where issues become more complex, subjective and intangible for statistics to be used in a meaningful way.

Opinion poll findings are often taken as proof that the public cannot have a sensible discussion on immigration and the debate is frequently described as ‘toxic’. But our research suggests that behind headline figures showing concern for its scale there may be both a more nuanced set of views and a real appetite for informed discussion. A small dose of statistics might just help to detoxify the debate. With immigration a deciding factor in how people cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum there can be no better time to try.