If the late Mary Whitehouse is looking down on us from heaven, she will surely, even in a state of spiritual perfection, be allowed the reflex of “I told you so!” when viewing current Westminster shenanigans.
Mrs Whitehouse, whom I interviewed several times over the course of her career, warned time and again that pornography would corrode the nation’s character and bring about political decline.
And so, I think she might say, it has proved. The avalanche of accusations about sexual offences, sexual harassment and “inappropriate” general conduct among parliamentarians is surely linked to the permissive society which Mary took arms against. She was, of course, ridiculed as a prude and a prohibitionist, and some of her views were a little off the point and disproportionate. But the nub of her crusade was that “the permissive society” would undermine morals and character.
Valerie Riches, when she co-founded what was then The Responsible Society (now called Family and Youth Concern), also made predictions that have been borne out by time. There was always a market for young flesh, she told me: young girls and boys would always be vulnerable to sexual predators, unless society took protective measures towards the young. She was very concerned – as was Victoria Gillick – that the powers that be, including the Family Planning Association, were too quick to promote sexualised material among the young in the guise of liberal sex education.
I am of the generation that first welcomed the “permissive society” of the 1960s, as a liberation from the restrictions of Victorian oppressiveness. Spontaneity and natural responses would replace starchy rules about not crossing your legs when you sat down, lest you show a flash of underwear. The prevailing motto of that permissive society was “If it feels good, do it!”
And now we see our MPs, and so many commanding figures in the performing arts, being arraigned for following that urge – doing whatever gratified their natural senses. Yet even Mary Whitehouse might consider some of the current reactions excessive. Entire careers are being ruined, it seems, for a touch on the knee or a pat on the derriere – former US president George Bush Sr, now in a wheelchair, has had to abjectly apologise for this gesture.
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