Free condoms and homeopathy

Green SurgeConor Pope of LabourList wants to believe the Green Party are not a threat to Labour’s chances of winning in May and are not a major party.

In fact, Conor Pope thinks the Green Party are a joke and Labour shouldn’t be frightened of saying so.

He writes of the Green surge:

The latest Green surge, I would wager, comes largely from ex-Liberal Democrat voters. They are another party whose supporters are seen by too many within Labour as faithful who have lost their way, rather than actual opposition. A huge number, of course, ‘came home’ to Labour following Nick Clegg’s foray into the rose garden with Cameron five years ago. We have come to lose them because we have already treated them as though they are our voters by some divine right.

There are certainly left-wing voters who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 who will never be voting LibDem again – they voted Liberal Democrat because they believed this was a party that would push Labour from the left, not a party that would give us a Tory government most of us never voted for. Those left-wing voters were already lost to Labour because of the Iraq war, because of hospital PFI, because of tuition fees – for any of many reasons for rejecting Labour on the left. I think Conor Pope is right to say that Labour assumed that it could simply scoop up those votes as the only left-wing party remaining, without needing to change any of the right-wing policies which drove left-wing voters away from Labour.

I was a fairly consistent Labour voter: I plan to vote Green in May 2015. I am not alone.

Pope’s suggested strategy is for Labour not to point out the similarities between the Green Party and Labour, but to splenetically attack the Green Party, accusing them of “crackpot ideas and dodgy motives” and “less love-bombing, more bombing”.

But Pope’s judgements of the Green Party are hopelessly uninformed.

He writes:

The threat of overpopulation has been a concern of theirs since they were known as the Ecology Party. Their current solution amounts to little more than free condoms.

Not that there’s anything wrong with handing out free condoms, but Conor Pope evidently didn’t bother to read the Green Party’s policy page on over-population which says:

There are many causes of population growth and some of these must be addressed to avoid overpopulation. Causes may be as basic as a lack of family planning information and contraceptives. Inequality and lack of opportunities can result in people having more children than they would otherwise want. On a wider scale, it has been observed that populations often increase following wars, social strife and environmental disasters.

Green Party policies as a whole aim to reduce inequality, both global and local and to make educational and work opportunities available to all, throughout life. Green Party policies also aim to avoid social and environmental disruption that can trigger population growth.

One of the Green Party’s short-term policy goals on over-population is indeed:

To ensure that condoms are supplied free on demand from chemists and at a subsidised price from machines in public places.

Why Conor Pope thinks that this is a “crackpot idea” is beyond me: safe-sex charities have long known that if you want men to use condoms as a matter of course, condoms have to be readily, freely available. He does not reference at all the Green Party’s other short-term policy goals on overpopulation, which include “addressing the issue of an ageing population”, having “comprehensive sex education in schools that covers the wider emotional, personal and societal aspects of relationships”, and a “comprehensive, free family planning service, available to everyone” within the NHS.

Medium-term goals on overpopulation include promoting debate on sustainable population levels, specifically not specific population targets, but maintaining an informed debate based on consumption as well as numbers, and

To reduce the ecological footprint of the UK, the rest of the EU and other countries in the developed world as an essential step towards reducing exploitation of the environment and the poorest peoples of the world.

Yet Conor Pope believes that all of this can be summarised as “little more than free condoms”. Odd that. Almost as if he hadn’t read it – or hoped his readers wouldn’t.

Ed Miliband Benedict CumberbatchConor Pope goes on to say:

Their leader, Natalie Bennett, is the kind of media performer who makes Ed Miliband look like Benedict Cumberbatch. She thinks there is a, “place in the NHS for homeopathy”.

Judging whether Natalie Bennett or Ed Miliband are better media performers is a rather subjective question. No one can blame Conor Pope for thinking that his party leader can perform like Benedict Cumberbatch: loyalty is an admirable trait. The assertion that Natalie Bennett supports homeopathy in the NHS is either ignorant or distorted, however.

It has long since been demonstrated that where homeopathy works, it is because of the placebo effect – and the placebo effect can do extraordinary things.

What Natalie Bennett actually said in a blog comment in August 2010:

You might be surprised by my stance on this, but I think there is a place for homeopathy.
The claims it makes for how it works are of course nonsense, but I saw in a discussion on another thread a person attacking it describe it as a “perfect placebo”, which to my mind is a perfect argument for it.
We know the placebo effect is very powerful, and may in fact be the best treatment for some patients with some conditions, but the doctor can’t say “I’m prescribing a placebo”.
So that’s how homeopathy works, and if it is used through the NHS, it does mean people have been checked for cancer etc first.
(This doesn’t mean I back so-called “homeopathic vaccination” etc, but I suspect that in the right trials, it would come out as an effective treatment – and unlike many “conventional” medicine, guaranteed no side effects.)

In an episode of the Pod Delusion recorded 7th September 2012, Natalie Bennett reiterated this position: that homeopathy is scientific nonsense, but that “homeopathic treatments” can provide a placebo effect – and if provided via the NHS, at least ensure that people do not rely on homeopathy to cure them of cancer. Conor Pope perhaps wasn’t aware that the comment Natalie Bennett made about homeopathy continued after the part he quoted, or misquoted.

Should the NHS provide placebo treatment to patients who can be helped by it? That’s a question. Should we study placebo treatments to find out more about how they can work? Surely yes. Is homeopathy a placebo treatment? Yes, it is. Does Conor Pope believe politicians shouldn’t discuss this kind of question? Apparently so.

Is Natalie Bennett’s willingness to debate homeopathy and the Green Party’s policies on condoms and family planning fit material for the Labour Party to use to present the Green Party as “crackpots”?

Certainly to Daily Mail readers, who more and more seem to be the Labour Party’s preferred voting group. Conor Pope may still be at the laddish stage of humour where any reference to condoms is only permissable as a joke. To serious people, seriously interested in sexual health and family planning issues, the question of access to contraception and the question of schools failing to provide comprehensive sex education, are issues which all political parties should be considering as a matter of policy.

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Filed under Elections, GE2015, In The Media, Women

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