Friday, 5 February 2010

Guest Blog by Rosy Thornton - The Rights and Responsibilities of the Writer


Writers around the world have always been in the forefront of the fight for freedom of expression. Here in the UK, of course, we have that right, enshrined in the Human Rights Act and article 10 of the European Convention. Which means that as a novelist I can write whatever I want. Can’t I?

The thing is, though, that with rights come responsibilities. I was brought up on the feminist writings of the 1980s (Carol Gilligan, Nel Noddings and others) which critiqued the traditional, liberal, rights-based ethics with which we are all so familiar, proposing that the moral regulation of human conduct should be founded less on individual rights and more on a recognition of community, of interrelationality, of responsibility: a so-called ‘ethics of care’.

Oops, slid into lecture mode there for a moment. I can hear you muttering: what on earth has this stuff got to do with writing commercial women’s fiction?

Well, freedom of expression means that an author is free to write about whatever characters she chooses, and to endow them with whatever views and attitudes she wishes. Besides which, we have to be true to our characters, don’t we? We have to reflect the world as it exists. A novel is not a soapbox.

But my personal version of the ‘ethics of care’ tells me that the flipside of freedom of expression is responsibility for what we choose to express; that as writers we have a duty to think about the potential impact of our work on those who read it. Societal attitudes are influenced not only by upbringing, family, friends and workmates, and by the news media, but also by the ambient culture: by film and television, and by the books we read.

It is for this reason that, speaking personally, I would never write a character who held views which were intolerant (racist, sexist, homophobic…) and who did not have those views challenged before the end of the book.

Even though much of my work is romantically themed, I would never write a story in which a female character relied for her self-worth, her entire happiness, her 'redemption', upon finding a man. I would not write a moody 'alpha' hero who is mean and even cruel but whose meanness is portrayed in a sexy light – even though there are whole swathes of genre fiction pedalled to young women which are based on precisely this scenario. I would only ever write female characters who are strong and independent and follow their own ends, and are in control of their sexuality.

These decisions are entirely personal – just my own individual choices. I'm not saying other writers 'ought' to make the same decisions. But we are all responsible for the stories we elect to write. They do not arise in a vacuum. And for me, although the way I write about the characters, interactions and relationships I portray is dictated (I hope) by being truthful to my characters, my choice of story is to some extent prescribed by my personal moral politics.

Does that make me peculiar? Very probably. But this is me trying to be honest about a difficult subject.
Rosy Thornton is a successful, talented writer of Women's Fiction. Do visit her website here.

48 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

I agree with your comments about not promoting intolerant attitudes, Rosy, without some sort of come-uppance, but i have to disagree about only creating female characters which are strong and independent. Whilst fiction should be inspirational and provide role models, like it or not many women's self-worth is still partially - or wholly - dependent on having a man in their life. I remember how i felt as a young woman, going to weddings and the ilk on my own. And i don't think there is anything wrong with fiction reflecting this. Not all woman are strong and independent and for them their should be some sort of fiction they can relate to.

But then the beauty of us novelists (aspiring or otherwise) is that we are all so different and between us offer something for everyone!

Great post as always!

Rosy Thornton said...

As you say, Sam - we're all different. Every writer will have a different moral perspective, different things that matter to her, in terms of personal politics. I suppose I was talking not about some kind of external 'politically correct' checklist for authors to follow but a highly subjective process of testing the characters, relationships and stories we choose to project against our own belief system.

Yes, I write about women's vulnerabilities as well as their strengths; any other approach would lead to one-dimensional characters. But (unlike you, fair enough, these things are totally subjective) I would never write about a woman who depended wholly on a man for her happiness.

But it's not so much the content of the restrictions I might choose to place on myself that interest me, so much as the PROCESS of placing restrictions at all. For me it is a very explicit kind of self-censorship. I was curious about whether other writers engage in the same process, either consciously or subconsciously.

(Thanks very much to the Strictly team for giving me the chance to preach- er, sorry, I mean, air my ideas!)

Emma Darwin said...

Good post, Rosy.

I agree that to have a central character (usually female) whose problems are all solved by Getting Her Man, who then makes problem-solving redundant because he'll solve them all for her, is irritating, old-fashioned and implicitly sexist. But I also get annoyed by readers who assume that any book which ends up with two people becoming a couple is being sexist etc. Like it or not, I think most people's idea of happinness involves, among other things, a significant, long-term sexual relationship, so it's hardly surprising if many a book ends that way. Call that getting your man (or woman) if you will... Quite what that kind of ending means, in finding an accommodation in a realistic(ish) novel, between how we want life to be, and the enduring physical and temporary (one hopes) socio-economic power of men over women, is going to vary from writer to writer.

And the knee-jerk can be in either direction. One of the blog comments about TMOL which most annoyed me was one which disliked the ending of the 1819 strand because the blogger was completely deaf to the very careful balance I made at the end, between the ways that BOTH halves of the couple will have to work out some accommodation to the other's nature.

Phillipa said...

"I would not write a moody 'alpha' hero who is mean and even cruel but whose meanness is portrayed in a sexy light – even though there are whole swathes of genre fiction pedalled to young women which are based on precisely this scenario."

Hell, I know you wouldn't, Rosy but lots of us would! But I think that most writers of genre fiction featuring Alpha heroes would point out that *the whole point of the novel is the hero's journey and redemption.* However unlikely that would be to happen in real life. The point in escapism!

I'm not going to go out afterwards and ask my husband to acquire a Greek accent and start treating me like sh*t.

It's escapism ... an awful lot of women (and yes me too!) enjoy fantasising about this type of hero. The emphasis on fantasy. I disagree that novelists have to write about life 'as it is' - some of us find fulfilment in writing about 'life as it isn't.' or 'life as they'd like it to be for a few hours on a dull Monday morning'.

Emma Darwin said...

Crossed with you, Rosy. At the intuitive level we all have a sense of what's 'right' for the story, though that 'right' is a highly subjective mish-mash of ethical and artistic questions.

I do know that if I include a character who - maybe necessarily - conforms to a stereotype, I'll probably slip in one from the same group who's the opposite, just to balance things out. Is that self-censorship? PC-ness 'gone mad'? Or is it simply that, as writers, we bloomin' well ought to be trying to see through the usual assumptions, not just for ethical reasons, but because it'll be a bloody boring book if we don't.

Rosy Thornton said...

Hi, Phillipa, I thought you might rise to the 'alpha male' thing! You and I have argued about this one before. (Fantasies, I might say, if I were arguing now, are very powerful things, and almost never entirely separable from the rest of our lives and feelings.)

But, as I said to Sam, my point wasn't really about the CONTENT of my personal 'self-censorship'. I absolutely recognise that everyone's views are different. (And, indeed, that I am an uptight feminist loon!) It was more about whether other writers do this at all, or to what extent it is a conscious process for others, as it very much is for me.

Maybe it's the habit of twenty years' writing about law - where the political implications of what I might choose to argue in terms of legal analysis always comes, for me, before everything. In non-fiction as in fiction, we all choose, and are responsible for, our 'stories'.

Gina said...

No matter how magnificently perfect my hero is, I subconsciouly leave out his snoring and burping and other habits I won't go into here. Talk about escapism and fantasy!

Phillipa said...

But, as I said to Sam, my point wasn't really about the CONTENT of my personal 'self-censorship'. I absolutely recognise that everyone's views are different. (And, indeed, that I am an uptight feminist loon!) It was more about whether other writers do this at all, or to what extent it is a conscious process for others, as it very much is for me.

Yes, but the example you used was bound to provoke a reaction. I wish there was a winking smiley here.

Phillipa said...

But it's not so much the content of the restrictions I might choose to place on myself that interest me, so much as the PROCESS of placing restrictions at all. For me it is a very explicit kind of self-censorship. I was curious about whether other writers engage in the same process, either consciously or subconsciously.


Isn't that process called 'voice'?

Rosy Thornton said...

I suppose I may have been trying to be just a teeny bit provocative, Philllipa....

;)

Phillipa said...

And you've stopping me from the real business of my writing this morning - earning some money to pay my mortgage!

Well done on the lively post though - hope you don't mind, I've flagged it up elsewhere and all journalists do, quoted you out of context. ;)

Rosy Thornton said...

Cheers, Phillipa! Now, where did I leave that tin hat...?

Phillipa said...

Tin hats are a very good thing for a novelist. Seriously, I think every writer goes through the process you describe, even when writing within a specific sub genre. I do wonder how much ghost writers go through this process... imagine writing someone else's book.

Derek said...

This is a great debate. I think it comes down to knowing the sort of book you are writing or want to writ, and also allowing the characters - to some extent - to tell their own story. In my thriller Standpoint, one of the baddies attacks the female lead and is ultimately killed for it (my idea of a happy ending). Even so I was very uncomfortable about writing the scene. Sometimes it's good to feel like that when writing because it means I'm probably going somewhere new and hopefully interesting. And, of course, our attitudes may vary from book to book.

Samantha Tonge said...

I'm not saying i could write a character, Rosy, who was totally dependent on a man for her happiness - that would, in the same way, be very one-dimensional and, i agree, totally unappealing. And i know from agents' comments i have received, the reading WF public at the moment does like strong female characters - and that's something i have to work on, consciously. I don't know why - most people who know me well think of me as a very strong woman but, for some reason, unless i work on it, my female MCs don't

So yes, for me that part of the process is a conscious thing and i am contantly checking the inner thoughts and dialogue of my MC for weak traits that will come across as unappealing.

Having said that, i agree with Phillipa that fiction is about escapism, so yes, in one way or another, my MCs are usually waiting to be swept off their feet:)

Samantha Tonge said...

"my female characters don't come across in that way", i mean.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Great post, Rosy and you know I always agree with you when you get on your soapbox about wimmin! Personally, although I write within the womag genre I hope I always write about women whose strength comes from within rather than from some strong, silent type. I don't believe I've ever written about one of those type of men - if I have it's to set them up for a fall. And, like you, any sexism, homophobia or racism rampant in any of my characters is swiftly and cruelly dealt with. You can't help but express your own politics in your writing - it may be why some of us starting writing in the first place.

Clodagh said...

Interesting post, Rosy. I agree with Emma that it's hard to write a love story with a happy ending without it being seen as just about a woman getting her man, especially as most of these stories are written from the woman's perspective. But if you look at it another way, it's about a woman going after what she wants in life - what she wants just happens to be love, happiness, children, a family life or whatever.

I don't self-censor what I write, but I do sometimes worry about how it might be construed.

On the subject of fantasy, women fantasise about a lot of things they wouldn't want to happen to them in real life (much darker than a moody man being a bit mean to them), and I think fiction can be a safe place to indulge those fantasies.

ireneintheworld said...

Totally agree Rosy. Why would we put something out there that was offensive or a danger to others? I will always leave that to someone else. Well blogged.

Emma Darwin said...

Mind you, some pretty solid literary careers have been built on being as offensive as possible.

Roderic Vincent said...

Fascinating post, Rosy. And an interesting debate. I've just been looking through my writing books for someone who said something about the only responsibility of the writer being to [i]write the truth[/i]. I think that's something akin to what you are saying. Otherwise it's propaganda. Can anybody help me with the reference? I thought is might come from the brilliant "How Fiction Works" by James Wood, but I can't find it.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Very interesting post, Rosy. Doesn't it also come down to whether the writer of the story is there to morally influence the readers or to provoke debate among them?
I've been very concerned in my present wip that my female characters could all too easily be seen to be 'saved' by the male ones at the end, which is something I shall have to wrestle with. Both my female characters are poor whilst both males are rich. I suspect some role reversal will have to happen...
Susiex

Xuxana said...

Which novels have mean men in them that the heroine falls in love with anyway?

Do you have any examples of an novels like this?

Rosy Thornton said...

Xuxana, I suppose I was thinking mainly of category romance, in a lot of which an 'alpha' hero is still de rigueur. Look on the Harlequin website at the guidelines for almost any of their imprints.
For example, the guidelines for the Mills & Boon Modern Romance series says: "When the hero strides into the story he’s a powerful, ruthless man who knows exactly what—and who—he wants, and he isn’t used to taking no for an answer!"
(Eek!)

redwriter said...

For example, the guidelines for the Mills & Boon Modern Romance series says: "When the hero strides into the story he’s a powerful, ruthless man who knows exactly what—and who—he wants, and he isn’t used to taking no for an answer!"

I like Mills and Boon! They're fun! I suppose the point now, is that although the hero still comes stomping in with that attitude, the heroine is more likely to say 'Well I'll consider it if you stop behaving like such a twit, because I'm busy here and I haven't got time for nonsense' than to fall into his arms in some sort of testosterone induced swoon.

Laura Vivanco said...

I also like M&Bs, and I agree with Redwriter that in many (but admittedly not all) of the novels where the hero is an 'alpha' with obnoxious views, to borrow your own words, Rosy, 'those views [are] challenged before the end of the book'.

I suppose you might argue that having the alpha hero challenged in this way, and changing as a result of the challenge, could encourage women to think that they could change the minds of men with obnoxious views, but that's a slightly different problem, and I have the impression that for many readers it's part of the fantasy which they know is a fantasy.

Rosy Thornton said...

I agree, Laura - that feeding women a fantasy where they tame the alpha hero - where they redeem their man - is pretty much as bad as one where they are themselves redeemed by a man. The honest novel, as Emma has said, will show that real relationships require accommodations on both sides.

As for the argument that fantasies are only fantasies and therefore harmless, I must admit that I regard it with great distrust. Mainly because I have so often read it advanced by apologists for pornography of the most brutal and dehumanising kind. Can any of us be sure that our fantasies don't colour our more conscious thoughts, feelings and actions? I would prefer a world where young women didn't feel any desire or need to fantasise about domineering men who "aren't used to taking no for an answer". IMHO, a lot of the problems of the world are caused by men not knowing that no (especially from a woman) actually means no.

Rosy Thornton said...

That last post sounded really pompous, didn't it? Sorry about that. Just, y'know, debating...

Samantha Tonge said...

I think many psychologists would say, Rosy, that fantasies are an intrinsic and very healthy part of our individual psychological lives.

And i think it patronises women to suggest that they let their fantasies affect their logical, sensible everyday thinking.

CarolineG said...

Very interesting post, Rosy. For me, part of the fun of writing comes in the sense of 'trying on' a different character. It can be quite thrilling having a character think in a way that may be abhorrent to me in real life. As I'm generally a very PC sort of lefty, I guess it's just interesting to try and imagine what it's like to be so different...
I'm saying all this but I don;t think I could bear to create some kind of foul racist though..and if I did, there would have to be a comeuppance.

Phillipa said...

"As for the argument that fantasies are only fantasies and therefore harmless, I must admit that I regard it with great distrust. Mainly because I have so often read it advanced by apologists for pornography of the most brutal and dehumanising kind. Can any of us be sure that our fantasies don't colour our more conscious thoughts, feelings and actions? I would prefer a world where young women didn't feel any desire or need to fantasise about domineering men who "aren't used to taking no for an answer". IMHO, a lot of the problems of the world are caused by men not knowing that no (especially from a woman) actually means no."

I agree with Sam.

You may find the prospect alarming and disturbing, Rosy, but I think that millions - of women of all ages and levels of education DO have these fantasies - yes and very dark ones indeed. To be honest, I would distrust anyone who tried to deny women the right to have these thoughts and express them if they want to.

redwriter said...

I think the idea that young women shouldn't desire a domineering man is an important one, but we don't want to saddle them with wet blankets either, a feisty female needs a powerful male character to balance her out. For me, the key thing here is the idea of dominance (which is a totally different thing from, say, a strong male) because it has such unpleasant connotations.

Laura Vivanco said...

'As for the argument that fantasies are only fantasies and therefore harmless, I must admit that I regard it with great distrust'.

I do too, because it seems to me that sometimes "it's only a fantasy" is used as an excuse to shut down discussion and avoid uncomfortable examinations of the fantasy in question. All the same, not everyone has fantasies which align nicely and comfortably with their politics/ethics in other aspects of life. I'm lucky that way, because I prefer to read about so-called 'beta' heroes, i.e. the kind who discuss things with the heroine and don't try to take charge of her and don't need to be 'tamed'. But if someone has thought through what their fantasies are, and is aware that they might be considered problematic but (a) can't change what they find interesting/exciting and (b) is fully aware that those fantasies would not be healthy/safe if they were lived outside the context of fantasy, then what else are they supposed to do? I don't think they'd get much pleasure out of trying to write or read about fantasies they found boring, and it certainly wouldn't be very healthy for them to sink into shame and guilt about them.

I'll plunge into some speculation, both about other people's preferences and about writing fiction, and that's probably not very sensible of me, because I can really only speak authoritatively about my own reading preferences and I couldn't write a novel but here goes....

As far as I can tell, many people find 'beta' heroes very, very boring. They seem to find conflict exciting and many authors depend on conflict between the couple to keep their plots moving.

I suspect that making egalitarian romantic relationships between nice men and women seem interesting is more of a challenge for writers. I say that because (a) there aren't so many existing models of how a story about that kind of relationship would work, and (b) because it seems to me that unless you introduced external conflict (and in M&Bs there is supposed to be a strong focus on the central relationship, so there isn't always so much space for complicated external plots), many readers won't feel there's anything of interest happening in the novel. Didn't Tolstoy say something about how all happy families were the same? I think he's wrong, but there seems to be a general feeling that conflicted, unhappy people who do bad/dangerous things are more interesting than well-balanced people who live ethically and in harmony with others.

Rosy Thornton said...

Ooo, Laura, that’s so interesting.

First of all, I totally agree with you, Sam and Phillipa, that it would be wholly wrong to set up as some kind of feminist thought police, claiming to pass judgment on the people and situations with which other women choose to people their imaginative lives. If I sounded as if I was saying that, I accept that I was quite out of line.

It is interesting to ask theoretical questions about a woman (or a man) who enjoys, for example, violent rape fantasies: about where those ideas come from, and whether, were society differently structured, those fantasies would still exist. Imagination, and particularly the sexual imagination, is powerful and complex and hard to rationalise.

However, since these things are quite imponderable. Therefore, as Laura says, all we can do here is talk about ourselves, and how our writing and reading choices relate to our own politics, beliefs, imaginations and fantasies. I think that for me, my beliefs about the desirable state of gender relations is (or has become) so central to my life and thinking, that I don’t think I could ever write about – any more than I would daydream about – a mean and moody ‘alpha’ man. The men in my books therefore all tend to be liberal-minded, self-critical, and acutely aware of others’ feelings. A load of boring wimps, in fact! But I don’t think that means there is no potential for conflict in a novel – even a romantically themed novel – with such a creature in the male lead. It’s just that the areas of conflict are perhaps rather different.

Thank you very much, everyone who has replied to my post – it’s been really fascinating!

Emma Darwin said...

I dunno. Maybe I'm insufficiently reconstructed, but I like alpha heros. And it seems to me that for an alpha heroine to encounter an alpha hero, and for them to fight their way towards an accommodation, is a perfectly satisfactory happy ending. (Laura: The Grand Sophy, Venetia).

What's wrong is when what the story is transmitting, is the idea that happy endings are only available to alpha male and beta female pairs, and the female, however alpha-ish at the beginning had better embrace beta-hood (beta-tude?) if she wants her man.

Laura Vivanco said...

'(Laura: The Grand Sophy, Venetia)'

This is where we run into a very common problem: one person's definition of an 'alpha' may differ considerably from another person's definition of an 'alpha'.

I'll quote Kate Walker's 12-point Guide to Writing Romance because she writes for the M&B line that Rosy mentioned:

The alpha hero is:
* A leader
* Macho with a heart of gold
* Handsome in a strong, ruggedly masculine way
* Powerful and successful
* Strong, determined and driven
* Totally ruthless when the situation calls for it
* He is such a strong, forceful personality that this can make him the sort of man you - and his heroine - either love or hate. (100)

I don't really think Damerel fits into that category. He's got used to being a rake, but he's not powerful and successful, he's not ruthless, he's not driven. He gives me the impression that he's a rather bored, unhappy man who's wasted his money and intellect and doesn't believe he can change because he's internalised society's low opinion of him.

Charles Rivenhall? No, I don't think so. He's grumpy, rather than successful. He seems more stubborn than powerful. He's worn down by his father's debts and worries about his family. He isn't sure he can work out a solution, and he's trying to control them, but I don't think he has the self-confidence or leadership qualities of an 'alpha'.

The Duke of Avon, on the other hand, or Simon the Coldheart, or the heroes of Regency Buck and Bath Tangle did come to mind when I tried to think of Heyer's 'alpha' heroes. Mr Darcy's the 'alpha' of Austen's heroes.

As I said, though, definitions vary.

Samantha Tonge said...

I think Edward Cullen, the lead hero of the Twilight series, is such a hugely romantic character because he satisfies both parties - he has his alpha side (the vampire) and yet the human in him is sensitive, caring and considerate to the extreme in his dealings with the mortal love interest, Bella.

Barb said...

I think that any character a writer creates must reflect some element of that writer's personal views on the world, otherwise how could the writer have imagined them?

It might be fun to try to create a character who has totally different views from yourself. And to try to understand their attitudes could be enlightening, but I think it would be very difficult to make them sound authentic.

Do you think it is possible to write from the viewpoint of a character whose views you abhor?

Emma Darwin said...

"Do you think it is possible to write from the viewpoint of a character whose views you abhor?"

Yes, but only in literary fiction. ;-) Seriously, to write him/her properly you'd have to enter into his/her viewpoint, and understand and make sense of why they are how they are, and why they do what they do. And comprendre tout, c'est pardoner tout...

Laura: Fair enough. I'm identifying alpha with Heyer's Type Two hero 'The brusque, savage sort with a foul temper', with Rochester as the original. Only of course it isn't as simple as that, because she's far too good a writer. Aiken Hodge describes Charles as 'A Type One who thinks he's a Type Two'. But as Aiken also says, 'When a Type Two heroine meets a Type Two hero, sparks will fly...' and Sophy is definitely a Type Two: the mannish sort brought up by her father. (Yes, I know Heyer reverse the terminology at some point. But the biog's in the other room...)

Laura Vivanco said...

I definitely agree that Heyer was a good writer. I also think her definition of her two basic types gave her quite a lot of room for flexibility: Freddy and Sir Waldo are both examples of her non-savage type of hero, but they're still very, very different from each other.

Re sparks flying, that isn't something I really enjoy reading about in a romance. Conflict between the hero and heroine tends to make me feel anxious, whereas other people find it interesting and exciting. I prefer seeing the hero and heroine cooperating from relatively early on in a novel, and getting to know each other better in a non-confrontational way. So The Grand Sophy isn't one of my favourite Heyers. Sophy makes me feel a bit exhausted, and I end up feeling as though I want to lie on a sofa alongside Lady Ombersley and Sancia.

Xuxana said...

Wow! This post has generated a lot of response.

All I know as a reader is that I love romance novels as a bit of escapism.

What's with all this stuff about crazy fantasies? Are you saying that reading romance novels is going to turn me into some kind of lunatic?

Ann Somerville said...

"the flipside of freedom of expression is responsibility for what we choose to express; that as writers we have a duty to think about the potential impact of our work on those who read it."

Yes. Yes. Yes. Thank you.

Jenn Ashworth said...

This is a really interesting post - and I've not devoted nearly enough time to reading and digesting the accompanying comments, but I have to say that I personally find the idea of a writer having a responsibility to write or show anything at all totally alien to the way I work and the way I think about what I do. I don't think there's a moral component to art at all - not mine, anyway. My only responsibility is to give my reader something stimulating to read, and I reserve the right to make 'stimulating' mean pretty much anything I like.

:)

Neal said...

At the end of your post you say, "Does that make me peculiar? Very probably."

To the contrary. I think your areas of rectitude put you right in the middle of the the greatest swath of the Politically Correct middle class.

And I think that to be an artist worth anything, you have to be an outlaw, at least in your thinking.

Rosy Thornton said...

Neal, I guess you have put your finger on precisely my fear. That because, for me, the politics of what I write and how I write it comes before any kind of 'artistic vision' (since l'm not a very artistic person, and am a highly political one), that will get in the way of my ever producing 'good art' or 'proper art', in some way. Bt I suppose we can one of us help how we are. And, as Phillipa said somewhere way back up the thread, maybe this stuff - the essentials of where we come from when we write - is what makes all writers different one from another, and defines our 'voice'.

Thanks again, everyone who has replied, for a really interesting discussion!

Rosy Thornton said...

Oops, sorry! That was meant to say 'we can NONE of us help who we are...'

Laura Vivanco said...

'my fear [...is that the] politics of what I write [...] will get in the way of my ever producing "good art" or "proper art"'

The great 19th-century realist novelists seemed to manage to combine their politics/philosophy with their literary art.

And it looks as though you're heading towards being 'an outlaw, at least in your thinking', Rosy:

'John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said the proportion of people who believe the government should redistribute from the better-off to the less well-off has fallen significantly over the past 13 years. Research shows that half the population supported such a move in the mid-1990s, but that has fallen to less than a third.

Attitudes towards welfare have also hardened over the same period. In 1997, 46% of the population believed that unemployment benefits were too low, but that has now fallen to below 30%.
'

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