Why calling for UK population controls misses the point

Madeline Bunting purports to be thinking the unthinkable in her Guardian column this week, calling for the UK to consider population controls. Indeed, I made a similar point when reviewing the Centre for Um’s recent pamphlet on demographics. Sadly though, I must add my name to the members of the blogosphere who think she must be tad confused.

The most fundamental point which she seems to miss is that, leaving aside immigration, indigenous European population growth is rising extremely slowly. It is hard to see what sort of policy you could adopt in a liberal democracy that could slow it further still, and something tells me Ms Bunting wouldn’t approve of, say, scrapping maternity allowance (which, for the record lest there be a misunderstanding), I wouldn’t approve of either! If all you’re going to do is spend lots of money on advertising campaigns around slogans such as “Stop at Two” I suspect you’ll be on a hiding to nothing in a society where so many families now stop at one.

Secondly, adopting a zero net immigration policy – which she appears to be endorsing (while tutting the BNP for having similar policies) is going to do precisely bugger all to stop population growth. The problem is not UK population growth, or even European population growth: it’s global population growth. Even if you could stop people from coming here – illegally or otherwise – the problem is that in developing countries people are breeding at an unsustainable rate.

The solution? Well, perhaps instead of telling us how we need religious people at the centre of political discourse, Madeline should be more vocal in her criticism of the Catholic Church which actively encourages people in developing countries to have as many children as possible and even spreads lies about condom use? Getting control of family planning in developing countries would have three effects: fewer people desperate for work spilling out into other countries, national economies that are better able to manage themselves and – as a massive positive side effect – better control of the HIV-AIDS pandemic. And that’s before you even get into the wider issue of the environment and population.

If we can’t sort that out, then talk about population controls are meaningless. This is probably why, apart from the danger of sounding like a Nazi, so many are unwilling to engage in the debate. The fundamental problem is not trendy secular liberals baulking at nanny-statism but your buddy Benedict XVI (not to mention fellow theocrat George W): deal with it, Maddy.


  1. Nice one James. I was so pleased when Bunting left the Guardian to become director of Demos. Sadly she only lasted five minutes in the new job and then came straight back. I bet she just did it to annoy us.

  2. Firstly, I doubt Ms Bunting cares much about liberal democracy, I mean climate change is such a big problem that only stronger government can solve it, if that means totalitarianism, so be it, at least it will be green totalitarianism…

    As for reducing population growth – the one tried and tested way to reduce population growth is to make people richer. That’s what’s happened in Europe, so why not trade with poorer countries. Encourage their governments to institute reforms to encourage entrepreneurship and discourage corruption. Lets celebrate the ‘sweat shops’ which give people a chance to give their children a better start in life (whilst encouraging good practice). Lets celebrate the fact that liberalising the economies of third world countries has lifted millions out of poverty rather than accusing it of exploitation of the poor by the rich.

  3. It amused me, at least, that in the first stick of that piece she refers to Britain being the second-most densely populated country on earth by 2074 if current trends etc, but in the last she points out that only 8% of it’s been built on…

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.