Tories on the level

Life’s pretty hectic at the moment, and doesn’t look like it’ll get any less so this side of Christmas unfortunately. However, I’m determined that Pushing the boundary won’t be allowed to wither on the vine like so many other blogs, so I’ll post whenever the time, inclination and material to post coincide.

Level crossing

Last month, David Cameron likened his mission to decontaminate the Tory brand to a computer game. Those few short weeks ago, he claimed:

"Until you have cleared level one, which I have incidentally never done, you cannot get on to level two. Level one is: are you a reasonable, decent, non-discriminating, sensible, practical person who understands the world as it is lived today, who wants to live in a modern world and who accepts what that means? If so, then you can move on to level two, where you can talk about some of the difficult issues about families and about responsibilities which can lead to trouble."

Strangely, despite his claim that he hadn’t cleared level one (I can’t argue with that, based on his own definition), he seems to be getting on pretty well with level two regardless. I’m not sure you can do that in most computer games: perhaps he found a cheat code online.

Since (and indeed during) that interview, the Conservatives have been allowing various nastier sides to peep out from behind their Level One sheen.

Nasti spumante

Among these was an opportunistic attack on black fathers. Barack Obama said it first, apparently, so that makes it officially Not Racist. I’m sure Barack Obama has said plenty of other things which don’t involve denigrating minorities, but it’s surely just coincidence they should pick this one – a bit like when the Daily Express happens to pick only the bad stories about immigrants for its front pages (or indeed any of its other pages).

[Incidentally, did you see last Friday’s Express front page? Apparently “1,650 NEW MIGRANTS INVADE UK EVERY DAY”. Seriously. It said “INVADE”. Astonishing.]

Then there was that report by Policy Exchange, saying northern cities have “failed”, which David Cameron had to rush to distance the Conservatives from, despite the fact (familiar to Boris Watch readers) that Policy Exchange has extremely close links to powerful Tories and indeed they’ve managed to keep several of their number in Boris’s administration (so far – who knows if they’ll end up going the same way as James McGrath, Ray Lewis and Tim Parker?).

Sexual discourse

Most recently, yesterday, the Guardian reported a speech given by Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, in which he told overweight people that there are “no excuses” for being obese. Hectoring the overwhelmingly poor obese is yet another return to nasty party habits, but what’s this I see nestling away in one particular paragraph of the speech? Can anyone spot the word here which makes me raise an eyebrow?

"As it is, people who see more fat people around them may themselves be more likely to gain weight. Young people who think many of their friends binge-drink are likely to do so themselves. Girls who think their peers engage in early sex are more likely to do so themselves.”

So we have “people”, “fat people”, “young people”… but suddenly, in the last sentence about early sex, we find “Girls”.

Does peer pressure not affect the age at which boys first have sex? Does the age at which boys first have sex not matter? Are boys to be encouraged to have sex early to prove their macho credentials? If so, presumably that will be with much older girls – or perhaps other boys – so as not to encourage young girls to join in.

This appalling statement is just the latest glaring example of the sexism and outmoded thinking at the heart of the supposedly modernised Conservative party.

Marrying value

Similarly ridiculous is their pledge, repeated as a front-page splash in Saturday’s Telegraph, to instigate a Married Couples Tax Allowance.

This policy represents a complete misunderstanding of cause and effect. The Tories portray this as a way to encourage marriage, on the basis that children brought up in a marriage are more successful in life.

But can it really be the case that a nice day out at a church or licensed civil venue and a couple of rings can fundamentally affect the life chances of the happy couple’s offspring?

How about looking at it in the other direction? Isn’t it possible that the reason why children of married couples do better is that they are children of people who are in a stable enough relationship to consider marriage, and who are well enough off to afford a wedding ceremony, and who go on to remain married for many years aided by the fact that they are comfortable financially and so avoid the “number one cause of divorce”, financial stress?

Of course children living in a comfortable, stable environment like this will have a smoother upbringing than those living in poverty with constantly arguing parents, and get better life chances as a result. But if poverty is the root cause of the problems for the children, what will the Tories’ policy actually achieve?

In the unlikely event that the opportunity to claim a extra tax relief actually does result in any couples marrying and staying together who wouldn’t at least have been living together happily in the first place (and so already pretty likely to bring up successful children), there’s every chance the marriage won’t work out (since they weren’t otherwise confident of it doing so), meaning more rows for the children to put up with, and perhaps eventually a messy divorce (and the loss of the tax bonus).

The more likely outcome is that the tax changes don’t actually affect most people’s behaviour, instead just upsetting people who are already upset, and making already poor people relatively poorer still.

Annulment horribilis

Picture the scene: your marriage of a few years is at a crisis point. You’d love it to carry on for the sake of the children and you’ve really tried to work it through, but it’s just not going to work. You’re already an emotional wreck, your home turned upside down by the sadness of the end of your marriage. You’re wondering how you’ll cope financially moving to one income, one parent doing the day-to-day child-rearing work, etc., and what do the Tory government offer you? A kick in the teeth in the form of a withdrawal of your married couple’s tax bonus.

It’s so blindingly obvious that only lasting love between partners can make a marriage work that it seems unbelievable that the Tories would seek to claim that however many pounds a week their bonus will represent could also do so.

It’s equally obvious that poverty is the main predictor of a child’s life chances, and while the dual income of a married couple can address this, so too could decent, targeted benefits for those in most need. Married couples, many with dual incomes, should not be at the front of the queue for assistance.

I’m married. My wife and I currently have no intention of having children. As I sit in my modest but comfortable home using my decent PC and watching my HDTV, I simply can’t for the life of me imagine why any political party in its right mind would want to give me any more money simply because I’m lucky enough (it really does come down to a significant element of luck, after all) to have found Mrs. Pushing the boundary.

The Conservative party, as it regresses into its old lecturing, moralising, sexist, reactionary and illogical ways, wants to compound the reward of marriage, rather than compensating the unrewarded. If that’s what Level Two is all about, let’s hope Cameron reaches Game Over soon.

2 Responses

  1. Hmmm,

    “…and so avoid the “number one cause of divorce”, financial stress?”

    So lack of money causes divorce…

    “…it seems unbelievable that the Tories would seek to claim that however many pounds a week their bonus will represent could also do so.”

    … but giving the married couple more money won’t prevent divorce?!

    Incidentally, the most revealing Tory moment this week I reckon is their pledge to stop using traffic light labels on food following consultation with the big name food manufaturers. Typical.

  2. That’s a good point – I hadn’t spotted the logical inconsistency there.

    Truth be told, I’m not totally convinced that the number one cause of divorce is really financial problems, which is why I put it in quotation marks – I suspect it’s more complicated than that. The number one cause of divorce to my mind is people falling out of love, or people never having really been suited to each other in the first place. Financial problems may cause more arguments and stress and so cause a tipping point to be reached, though, which is probably what the “number one cause” stuff is getting at.

    But yes, I can see the argument that if you throw money at people who are married it might stave off that tipping point and keep divorce at bay. It just strikes me as a fundamentally illiberal (David Davis, are you watching?) thing to want to do, to try to artificially sustain a relationship that’s had its day, as if children living with people in a shaky relationship is better than children living with one dedicated and happy parent.

    If people love each other and choose to get married, that’s their choice. If they agree they should divorce, ditto. Chucking a bit of money their way to try to interfere just seems bizarre.

    And my parallel point then is that money should be targeted where it’s needed most, by those who are the least well off, which is nothing like this proposal either. It seems to fail on both counts.

    As for the traffic light label thing, I can’t believe this government’s cowardice on that front, refusing to make it a mandatory standard and so allowing many manufacturers and Tesco to adopt a confusing numerical system instead. But not to even *recommend* that traffic lights are a good idea is a huge step even further from the sensible one. I suppose that’s because it’s fat people’s own faults, and certainly has nothing to do with the food manufacturers whose votes and funding the Tories are wooing.

    I’m no defender of *everything* this government has done (though I’ll happily defend quite a bit of it), but the people who class themselves as broadly on the left who seem delighted by the idea that the government will get kicked out but ignore the fact they’ll be replaced by the Tories do seem a strange bunch to me. There’s pretty much nothing they’ve complained about this government doing that the Tories wouldn’t also have done, and in most cases they’d have done it in an even more objectionable manner. Traffic lights on food not being mandated? The Tories won’t even recommend it. Of course it’s a valid criticism of the current government, but that doesn’t make Cameron’s mob the solution.

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