Mumsnet vs the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child on sex education

What is it about the SPUC that makes it more worthy of ministerial attention than the Mumsnetters?

You can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep. So what does it mean when the minister of state for schools appears to be courting the pro-life idealogues of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, while ignoring a hugely popular network like Mumsnet? Both SPUC and Mumsnet wrote letters to the Department of Education regarding sex education. Both letters were received. But only one got a reply. Nick Gibb MP took time to write back to SPUC; Mumsnet got nothing.

This is curious. Of course, a minister can’t respond personally to every query, but when it comes from a website that gets five million visits a month, you might imagine a politician could see the argument for answering: that’s a lot of potential voters you could reach for the price of some Basildon Bond and a stamp. SPUC claims 45,000 members in the UK. So what is it about those 45,000 that makes them more worthy of ministerial attention than the Mumsnetters?

The answer is that Gibb seems to be following the path of his anti-choice appeasing colleague, secretary of state for Health Andrew Lansley, and cosying up to the most reactionary elements he can find. And SPUC is pretty reactionary. The organisation is ostensibly a campaign against abortion. However, it has expanded its remit to oppose contraception, same-sex marriage – and now, sex education through the Safe at School campaign. The Safe at School campaign relies on one sinister question: “Do you know if your child is safe at school?” From that seed of uncertainty, it seeks to convince parents that schools are practising a sort of institutionalised child abuse by teaching children anything to do with reproduction. “Sex education in school […] is priming children from the age of five to become sexually active,” it says, marking the exact point where enforced ignorance and victim-blaming meet.

The SPUC attitude is inadvertently a paedophile’s dream. Not only does it falsely suggest that pre-pubescent children can be coaxed into sexual activity (Humberts rejoice! SPUC says your victims have been taught to want it), but it also seeks to deprive children of a vocabulary with which they can discuss, and so have control over, their own bodies. It’s this base level of knowledge – the simple naming of parts – that SPUC seeks to deprive children of.

In his letter to SPUC, Gibb writes: “I can confirm that neither the National Curriculum nor the new draft programme of study requires the naming of internal or external body parts with regard to reproduction.” For SPUC, this opens the way for them to resist schools providing any information to children about reproduction, and the organisation’s website is already celebrating the withdrawal of schools from sex ed under pressure from SPUC campaigners.

But SPUC does not represent the majority of parents. Mumsnet’s letter to the DoE – the one that Nick Gibb didn’t reply to – highlighted the results of a survey of its members’ attitude to sex and relationships education. These findings obviously can’t be extrapolated to the whole population, but they are strikingly positive: 92 per cent were happy for their children to attend SRE classes, and 69 per cent thought the subject should be compulsory at primary school.

“It seems odd for the government to ignore parents' views when it comes to sex education, and you have to wonder why," says Justine Roberts, Mumsnet co-founder and CEO. To a suspicious mindset, it might appear to be that ministers are on a mission of appeasement to the social conservative tendency, regardless of what parents really want or what is right for children.

 

Why didn't Mumsnet get a response on sex education?

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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Commons Confidential: Dave's picnic with Dacre

Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

Sulking David Cameron can’t forgive the Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, for his role in his downfall. The unrelenting hostility of the self-appointed voice of Middle England to the Remain cause felt pivotal to the defeat. So, what a glorious coincidence it was that they found themselves picnicking a couple of motors apart before England beat Scotland at Twickenham. My snout recalled Cameron studiously peering in the opposite direction. On Dacre’s face was the smile of an assassin. Revenge is a dish best served cold from a wicker hamper.

The good news is that since Jeremy Corbyn let Theresa May off the Budget hook at Prime Minister’s Questions, most of his MPs no longer hate him. The bad news is that many now openly express their pity. It is whispered that Corbyn’s office made it clear that he didn’t wish to sit next to Tony Blair at the unveiling of the Iraq and Afghanistan war memorial in London. His desire for distance was probably reciprocated, as Comrade Corbyn wanted Brigadier Blair to be charged with war crimes. Fighting old battles is easier than beating the Tories.

Brexit is a ticket to travel. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is lifting its three-trip cap on funded journeys to Europe for MPs. The idea of paying for as many cross-Channel visits as a politician can enjoy reminds me of Denis MacShane. Under the old limits, he ended up in the clink for fiddling accounts to fund his Continental missionary work. If the new rule was applied retrospectively, perhaps the former Labour minister should be entitled to get his seat back and compensation?

The word in Ukip is that Paul Nuttall, OBE VC KG – the ridiculed former Premier League professional footballer and England 1966 World Cup winner – has cold feet after his Stoke mauling about standing in a by-election in Leigh (assuming that Andy Burnham is elected mayor of Greater Manchester in May). The electorate already knows his Walter Mitty act too well.

A senior Labour MP, who demanded anonymity, revealed that she had received a letter after Leicester’s Keith Vaz paid men to entertain him. Vaz had posed as Jim the washing machine man. Why, asked the complainant, wasn’t this second job listed in the register of members’ interests? She’s avoiding writing a reply.

Years ago, this column unearthed and ridiculed the early journalism of George Osborne, who must be the least qualified newspaper editor in history. The cabinet lackey Ben “Selwyn” Gummer’s feeble intervention in the Osborne debate has put him on our radar. We are now watching him and will be reporting back. My snouts are already unearthing interesting information.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution