Have more sex, a top Tory has said - for the good of the economy and to solve the looming pensions crisis, of course. What's with this talk of making lots of love from a party long associated with Victorian values?
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online
Conservative politicians and sex. To do it is one thing - perhaps whilst wearing a Chelsea strip, or with John Major in a bathtub? - but to speak of it quite another.
For all the cut and thrust of political life, the corridors of power are a strangely sexless place. Rare is the MP who will make even a veiled reference to bonking - instead policy talk is of being "family friendly".
So it is rather surprising that the party's shadow work and pensions minister, David Willets, has urged us to go forth and multiply. "After the baby boom of the 1950s, we have had the baby bust. Europe's real demographic crisis is not longevity but birth rates." Over the next 50 years, he says Europe needs an extra 40m young people.
Sex is the one topic Tories in particular tie themselves up in knots over, so MPs tend to plump for a rather prim stance on the subject.
The aforementioned Mr Major espoused family values in his 1993 Back to Basics moral crusade, a campaign which somewhat backfired when various ministers and high-level MPs became embroiled in one indiscretion or another.
Ten years earlier, Margaret Thatcher urged a return to what she called "Victorian values", which bore some similarity to the Puritans' insistence on hard work and the traditional family unit.
Shared conservative values
Conservatives with a small c, too, share this unease about the pleasures of the flesh. In a 1951 letter only now made public, Ronald Reagan revealed his angst about sex. "Even in marriage I had a little guilty feeling about sex, as if the whole thing was tinged with evil," the man who would be US president wrote to a friend.
Double entendre? I'll give you one
Even Labour's Tony Blair discovered - and quickly quashed - his inner Sid James last July when an attractive German reporter was confused as to whether it was her turn to ask a question.
"Do you want me now?" she asked. "I want you any time," the PM replied naughtily, before coming over all flustered. "I mean that in a, er, non whatever-it-is way."
Ah, whatever-it-is. Politicians have long been concerned that we are not getting enough of it - well, women of child-bearing age in a stable, preferably married, relationship where neither party uses contraception, that is.
Mussolini wanted lots of little Italians for the good of the nation
Altogether more sinister was Hitler's and Mussolini's attempts to raise the birth rate - both saw more citizens as key for victory in battle and success at home. The Nazi regime cracked down on abortion and equality for women; Italy criminalised abortion and passed laws which denied civil service jobs and promotions to bachelors.
For Hitler, it worked - the birth rate went up during the Nazi regime; but Mussolini's Battle for Births did not - the rate actually fell from when he introduced it in 1927.
In France after German liberation, General de Gaulle urged his citizens to produce 12m beautiful babies in 10 years. His administration built new flats for young couples, and passed policies which encouraged women to be housewives and mothers. The country's birth rate shot up, and was among the highest in Europe from 1945 until the late 60s.
Today France's birth rate has fallen, but remains relatively high in part due to incentives such as tax breaks and lower rents for families with three or more children. No doubt the 35-hour working week gives parents more time to spend with the kids, as well as make them.
The tendency for couples to have fewer children - and later in life - is ringing alarm bells across much of the developed world.
BIRTH RATES IN EUROPE
In Spain, women have 1.15 babies each, in Italy it's 1.23
In the UK it's 1.6, France 1.89 and Ireland is top at 1.9
This cannot simply be explained by women putting their careers first. In Italy, where few women work full-time, the birth rate is one of the lowest in the world.
In the UK, the birth rate is higher but not enough to sustain population growth. Two groups, however, are more likely than most to heed the Tories' call. The rate of teen pregnancies here is among the highest in the world; and there's a mini baby boom in the fashionable middle classes. In London's Stoke Newington - the new Islington - there are said to be more children under five than anywhere else in Europe.
Sadly for the Conservatives, neither group is naturally Tory by inclination.