I'm sure anyone born into a large family on benefits will feel suitably chastised to have been so irresponsible as to have been born into that position(!?) but we'll come back to that.
Then, this week, we had Howard (now Lord) Flight giving us his €0.02 on the same issue. Those of you with memories longer than the lifespan of the Coalition may remember that Flight was barred by Michael Howard from standing for re-election as Conservative MP for Arundel in 2005 when he gave the game away by suggesting that the Tories were planning much larger public expenditure cuts than the meagre £8 billion or so in the 2005 Tory manifesto. (How times change!) Anywhere, here's Flight with worries about changes to the benefit system:
We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive, but for those on benefit there is every incentive. Well, that’s not very sensible.
(I don't normally link to the Daily Mail, but in this case it seems strangely appropriate.)
This is the old eugenics strain coming back into Tory thinking - the idea that we need incentives to encourage the rich (who are, according to the theory, more intelligent, hardworking, or more worthwhile in some other way) to have more kids while putting the reverse incentives in place to stop the poor overrunning us with feckless offspring.
It's not a new argument at all - and it was heavily associated with certain parts of the British Left in the pre-World War 2 era (e.g. H.G. Wells, the Webbs etc.) But since 1945 the Right has made all the running on this issue. The most memorable intervention came from Keith Joseph, briefly in the running for the leadership of the Conservative party in 1974 after Ted Heath had been removed from office after failing to heed the advice of the then 5 year old Dave Cameron to form a coalition with the Liberals under Jeremy Thorpe.
I'll quote from Tony Benn's account of the Joseph speech in his diary for 19 October 1974, as it's really quite excellent (I have been recently rediscovering the Benn diaries from this period and will be referring to them more often in posts over the next few months as the parallels between now and the seventies are really quite striking in so many ways):
Joseph's speech on 'The remoralisation of Britain' was an attack on permissiveness on the Mary Whitehouse model, but had advocated birth control for poor families so as to reduce the number of children they would produce, since the mothers were unfit to look after them. It was a complete master-race philosophy; the theory that the problem is the immorality of the poor rather than poverty is a most reactionary idea bordering on fascism.
Quite so, and this really all comes back to the basic tenet that if you scratch a 'libertarian' Conservative like Joseph, Hunt or Flight, you'll basically find a reactionary authoritarian right winger.
It was disgusting in 1974 and it's disgusting now. This is the kind of crap that's masquerading as mainstream 'cuddly' politics under the guise of the most reactionary British govt since the 1930s. Aided and abetted by those spineless Lib Dem collaborators. At least Colchester MP Bob Russell had the decency to condemn flight for his remarks. (Sure, Dave also slapped flight down but given that Hunt said pretty much the same thing with nary a whimper from No 10, did he really mean it? Or is it just only OK to say this kind of thing if you're one of Dave's mates?)
Next stop - "Coalition announces sterlisation for welfare claimants". I kid you not.