Highly intelligent people can often do quite stupid things.
We woke up this morning to the news that Professor John Ashton, the country’s most senior scientific adviser in the field of public health, was arguing publicly for a debate on reducing the legal age of consent to sex, from 16 to 15.
Now, Ashton probably has perfectly good, public-health-type reasons for arguing this, although the fact that so many young people are already having sex before they are 16 ought not to be one of them. Bad cases do not make good laws. And he is probably right: 15 is no longer a child, lowering the age might paradoxically reduce teenage pregnancies because younger girls would seek advice earlier (of course, boys aren’t involved), German frauleins are legally at-it by 14 and it ought to be up to individuals, not the law, to determine what is appropriate behaviour in their own particular circumstances.
One assumes, too, that Prof Ashton’s intention was not to invite a barrage of death threats from the piss-stained-sofa brigade, spurred on by tabloid headlines and even now reaching for their sharpened Tweeters, shouting: “Kill the paedo Prof!” But on past form that’s what is quite likely to happen next.
Nor, I suppose, was he mentally prepared for the instant clouds of Tory steam emanating from the little indignation boiler kept at Number 10, where dwells a young, married Prime Minister blessed with an entire quiverfull of potentially molestable juveniles.
So, what did he expect would happen if he announced what he was merely thinking?
Ashton might have taken a leaf out of the well-publicised book of his fellow eminent scientist, the aptly named Professor David Nutt. The day after it was extensively reported that another young clubber had died from ingesting some industrial quantity of bespoke designer substance, Prof Nutt took to the airwaves to invite prospective investors to fund the manufacture of a new drug he has invented, that mimics all of the happy results of consuming alcohol without any of the harmful side-effects. (Side issue: sounds really boring.)
Prof Nutt is, or was, the country’s leading specialist in Psychopharmacology – the effects of chemicals on the human brain. Unfortunately, the Government committee he led researching into this subject a few years ago recommended the legalisation of ecstacy and cannabis, or at least a downgrading of the categories of certain drugs, maybe even heroin, I don’t really remember. The committee was instantly disbanded, and Prof Nutt sacked, for daring to make this scientifically respectable suggestion which, naturally, flew in the face of all that is holy regarding the War On Drugs, widely thought outside the office of the editor of the Sun to have been lost almost before it began.
It had perhaps not occurred to him that the first stumbling-block he might encounter was the Rt Hon David Blunkett – possibly the most reactionary and headline-averse Home Secretary we have had in living memory.
As a result of the Nutty Prof’s hostage to fortune, providing the Government with a fresh opportunity to restate and reimpose an illiberal policy on the nation’s recreational drug users, the designer-highs industry has flourished as never before. Sinister East Europeans are able to afford houses with three-storey basements in Knightsbridge, and many young Brits have died from the unlicensed psychopharmacological tinkerings of their imported Chinese lab technicians. Collateral damage, apparently.
Prof Ashton, on the other hand, has – pardon the phrase – come up against the strangely puritanical attitude of young Britons to sex. To summarise their arguments, sex is generally to be frowned on. Not a single interviewee under 20 has been found to be in favour of reducing the age of consent; regardless of the fact that, until 100 years ago, we didn’t have an age of consent. Families took responsibility for policing their own children, the overnight ‘sleepover’ at a ‘friend’s house’ had not yet been invented. The working-class would breed like rats, whatever the law said. Perhaps he should have consulted his own children, before risking his reputation.
These eminent men need to take a reality check. They can be as clever and sensible and reasoned and expert as they like. They can even be absolutely bang-on right about stuff.
But they need to leave it to stupid politicians to make the decisions, if they know what’s good for them.
As I have been writing this, the Attorney General of Northern Ireland has proposed a moratorium on the expanding number of expensive police investigations, coroners’ inquests and lawyer-led inquiries into illegal acts, murders basically, carried on over 15 years ago during the so-called Troubles; pointing out, not without reason, that it is costing £millions and preventing policemen and lawyers from catching-up with today’s backlog of unruliness. He too is now a headless corpse, having been decapitated by the snapping teeth of the Prime Minister and just about every victim support group, who now comprise the majority of the population.
What on earth did he expect? Silly man.