1995: Hattersley, Abortion and War
On 19 June 1995 Roy Hattersley (by then former leader of the Labour Party but not yet Baron) wrote an anti-abortion article in the Guardian in which he referred to the “absolute sanctity of life”.
Somewhat irritated, I wrote a brief letter to the Guardian:
I was much impressed by Roy Hattersley’s defence of the “absolute sanctity of life”. [Guardian, 19.6.95] It reminded me powerfully of his exemplary courage in speaking out against the Gulf War.
The reference was to Operation Desert Storm of January-February 1991, which the Labour leadership supported.
The Guardian did not publish my letter; I was not surprised, imagining that my schoolboy sarcasm was too crude for the Guardian‘s sophisticated middle-class readership.
I was therefore rather taken aback when, a few days later, I received a communication from a member of Hattersley’s staff, to whom the Guardian had forwarded my letter, thanking me for “expressing praise and support”. Realising that even the simplest use of irony was open to misunderstanding, I sent a more straightforward message to Hattersley:
Dear Mr Hattersley, I am in receipt of a letter dated 28 June from your understrapper, a Mr Setrice. This refers to a letter sent by myself to the Guardian following your article of 19 June in defence of the “absolute sanctity of life”.
In my letter to the Guardian I commented that the article “reminded me powerfully of his exemplary courage in speaking out against the Gulf War”.
I was therefore somewhat surprised that Mr Setrice told me that you were grateful for a letter “expressing praise and support”. If you cannot recognise the rather crude irony deployed in my letter, you are an even greater buffoon than I had previously believed you to be.
To make matters quite clear: I believe your position on abortion to be vicious sexist hypocrisy; I believe your position on the Gulf war to be vicious racist hypocrisy; and I believe your retreat from even the milk-and-water reformism of the Labour Party’s traditional politics to be wholly contemptible.
Ian H Birchall