Yesterday in what turns out to be Round 1 of this subject I wrote

[MP Nadine] Dorries … said that we… have “more abortions than anywhere else in Western Europe”…   I have neither the time nor the will to delve into this generalisation.

Somehow, overnight I summonsed the will to look at the data and again the truth turns out to be more complex than the politician’s easy generalisation:

Italics – most recent year available if not 2008

Source: Eurostat databases

As with all statistical data the devil is in the detail.  Ms Dorries talked about “Western Europe” and in the absence of an official definition I have used my own.  For one reason or another there is no data available for Ireland, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria or Portugal.

When commenting on her other claims on this subject I used figures for England and Wales as these are the headline numbers the Department of Health publish.  Scotland and Northern Ireland have devolved responsibility for health.  Strictly speaking I should also have excluded Welsh data for the same reason, which would have brought Ms Dorries’ claimed “200,000” abortions per year down to just under 181,000 in 2010.  This seems reasonable because the changes to the abortion law she seeks would only apply to England.  On the other hand, when making international comparisons, the only data available is at UK level, and only for 2008.

Having said all that, we can return to Ms Dorries’ claims and conclude

  • Yes, we did have the highest number of abortions in Western Europe, but only in 2008 (since when our figures have fallen slightly – data is not yet available for other countries) and only slightly more than France
  • However, on the much more meaningful measure of the chance of a woman having an abortion (the rate) France and the UK are virtually the same and have the second highest rate in Western Europe
  • The highest rate of abortions in Western Europe, considerably higher than either the UK or France, is in Sweden
  • There is arguably a cluster of four countries –the UK, France, Norway and Denmark – where the rates of abortion are not that different.

So the scary headline the highest number of abortions, with all its negative connotations, turns out to tell only part of a complex story.


Yes, it’s a hung Westminster parliament – maybe.

You have to sympathise with politicians and what they need to do.  In an election, of course, you have to say your aim is to win.  But since the first UK leaders’ debate poll after poll puts the three big parties at (roughly) 33% -33% – 33% each.

Even if the parties find it difficult to talk of a hung parliament (Lib Dems and minority parties of course prefer “balanced”) just about anyone else who’s interested is.

It’s a bad thing.  Unstable government.  An inevitable second general election.  Who will get into Downing Street?  How will the existing incumbent be got out?  The money markets won’t take it.  The economy is doomed…and so it goes.

Well, look North, West or North West – to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Or East to our  European neighbours.  Or further East and South to Australasia.  They all seem to be able to cope with this supposedly disastrous electoral arithmetic.

Take the instructive case of Scotland.  Not total harmony of course, but very workable government in ten and more years of devolution, first in a coalition and then with a minority administration.  It works, and so much better than the old Lib-Lab pact at Westminster decades ago.

And while we’re at it let’s remember many councils across the UK where joint or minority administrations work without the world collapsing in on them

The reality of course concentrates the mind.  Politicians do what they must – set out their position, make it clear what their bottom line is if they’re in the frame for government, negotiate their interests on an issue by issue basis if they’re not, remain aware of public opprobrium if they don’t make it work.

There seems to be something uniquely confrontational about Westminster, bolstered by tradition and even the shape of the chamber that makes it difficult to contemplate what happens routinely in many other stable democracies.  Let’s hope our new MPs learn the lessons from those other places if they’re “hung”.

The one difference of course, is that those other places have some form of proportional representation which makes it unlikely that one party will ever have a built-in majority.  Now will that be the Lib Dems’ bottom line if they’re in the frame for government?