12:04 pm - July 15th 2009
The Family – what does it mean, this ephemeral concept that makes Tory policymakers so very moist and excited? It doesn’t mean any old bunch of people bound together by blood and love. Ian Duncan Smith’s vision of The Family as propounded in his new policy paper, Every Family Matters, is the relatively recent kitsched-out 1950s incarnation of the nuclear heterosexual brood: you know, one man and one woman bound in holy wedlock, living together with their genetic offspring, him in the office, her in the kitchen.
Well, that rules out my family for a start, and probably yours too. And yet Tory wallahs – not even in power yet but already slavering to sink their teeth into Labour’s social reforms – get all gooey over The Family. All you need to do is have a shyster mention ‘ordinary families’, as distinguished from the rest of us scum, and Tory spinsters start wetting their little knickers.
Every Family Matters wants to actively force men and women, who have been drifting gratefully away from the ball-and-chain-and-live-with-it moral mentality for generations, back into the heteronormative marriage model.
If Tory plans are initiated, they will institute a compulsory ‘cooling off’ period of three months before divorce proceedings, offer tax breaks and benefits bribes for married couples, and demolish Labour plans to offer the same recognition to unmarried couples and civil partners, as well as boring us all with a whole pile of ‘Pro-Family’ rhetoric.
I am going to remain calm about this. I’m not going to point a shaking finger at the fact that the Conservatives are coming out with more and more evilly recalcitrant, misery-inducing plans by the minute. I’m not going to squeal and whine over the coming Torygeddon. I’m not even going to point out just how much Every Family Matters is completely at odds with their plans to opt out of the European Social Charter and attack abortion rights. Instead, let’s pretend that this dribbling piece of under-researched excuse for loo roll is actually a balanced and sane piece of policy, and analyse it on its own merits.
Right. The main premise of Every Family Matters is the notion that, since kids whose parents are married do better, more marriage will fix ‘Broken Britain’. Which is balderdash. Married parents do not create happy kids. Stable, affluent families create happy kids, and stable, affluent couples are statistically more likely to get and stay married. Johann Hari explains the statistics so I don’t have to, but the short version is: marriage is a symptom, rather than a cause of social stability. Simply putting incentives in place to bribe quite unhappy people into staying together ‘for the sake of their children’ isn’t going to magically create social stability. That kind of logic is cargo-cultism, and it’s lazy, and it’s stupid, and it won’t work because it’s stupid.
In fact, most research points to the fact that whilst children whose parents are married do, on the whole, perform better than their peers due to aggregate economic and social factors, children whose parents are married but unhappy do worst of all. A recent study of 341 children whose parents had divorced showed that, contrary to expectations, fully 80% said they were as happy or happier now than they had been when their parents were married, and only 25% wanted their parents to get back together. Clearly, pressuring folks back into a model of mandatory heteronormative marriage won’t make kids fitter, happier and more productive. So what’s the Tory agenda?
Well, if they want to create straw men to shift our focus away from social redistribution, they have to start somewhere. The document states: “Poverty places enormous strain on relationships, as does poor housing and lack of meaningful employment.” So the Tory strategy would be to improve housing and increase the minimum wage and thus strengthen relationships, right? Right? Wrong. “Supporting adult relationships must be a key concern of family policy rather than a peripheral interest.” So rather than get to the route of the problem and pursue social justice, they’re going to make laws to sellotape unhappy couples together and ‘readjust people’s expectations’. Brilliant.
Marriage also saves the state money, which is more important than national happiness. Encouraging couples to stay together means that we need to build fewer houses; Duncan Smith practically came out and said it when he told the BBC that ‘the idea of compromise from day one, two living as cheaply as one, seems to have disappeared.’
But the basic agenda is far less subtle. Cameron and his cronies simply do not LIKE women who live independent lives, or single parents, or gay people, or people with alternative notions of what a free and happy family constitutes. Promoting heterosexual marriage above everything else explicitly others those people, singling us out as socially destructive. In Torygeddon, we’re simply freaks. And I’m sorry, but I don’t want to live in Mr Cameron’s world, particularly not when it’s raddled with hypocrisy.
Which brings us right back to this week’s ‘revelation’ about Tory plans to reduce the time limit on legal abortion without any commensurate easing of the sanctions on early-term abortion. This is a move that will not only significantly undermine women’s vital reproductive freedoms: it will bring unwanted children into the world.
It will leave us with more dysfunctional families, and put a great deal more children in the care system – exactly what Every Family Matters claims to stand against. David Cameron’s party has no real agenda for bringing about social change, it doesn’t really care about children, and its happy-clappy cuddly-wuddly mummies-and-daddies lets-fix-broken-Britain rhetoric has all the tenacity of soggy toilet paper. We need to get real about the basic hypocrisy of Tory family fetishism.
Laurie Penny is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a journalist, blogger and feminist activist. She is Features Assistant at the Morning Star, and blogs at Penny Red and for Red Pepper magazine.
· Other posts by Laurie Penny
Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Equality ,Feminism ,Westminster
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