...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, July 13, 2007

Day 2382: Hit it till it works – the Conservatory way of mending our "broken" society


Mr Iain Drunken Swerve is back, and this time it is PERSONAL!

When Dr Who's TARDIS is not working he will often THUMP it. This might get him moving again, but often has the unfortunate side-effect of taking him BACKWARDS IN TIME. Funnily enough, the Conservatories' Social Justice Policy Group seems to have a similar problem.

After the leak of his alcoholic binge-drinking policy (which revealing that the Conservatories intend to put a 7p tax on a PINT OF BINGE), now we get the full report, in which Mr IDS goes BACK to the FUTURE to play Eighties panel game "Tax the Family" (presented by Mr Robert Robinson. The resemblance to Mr Drunken Swerve is… probably a co-incidence.)

I suppose the first question we SHOULD be asking is "is society REALLY 'broken' like the Conservatories say it is?"

Because if society ISN'T really broken, then Mr Drunken Swerve's plan and Mr Balloon's promise to "mend" it are based on a FALSE PREMISE.

"Our broken society" is a SPLENDID sound-bite for the Conservatories, guaranteed to tickle all the right (and FAR right) fancies of their members. It is just an updated version of their old, old attitude of nostalgia mixed with blame for the next generation: "Kids today!" – Traditional Conservatory Values in a Modern Setting, you might say.

It's easy to back it up with SCARE STORIES too.

We have locked up EIGHTY THOUSAND people in our prisons – twice what it was before Lord Blairimort came to power – and that must mean something is wrong. We have the HIGHEST rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe, so that cannot be good. Our children our reported to be BOTTOM in a league table of happiness, and that cannot be called a success.

On the other fluffy foot, we live longer, healthier, more prosperous and better-informed lives than pretty much ever before in history.

And are those kids REALLY all that bad? Do FERAL GANGS of HOODIES roam our neighbourhoods looking for Questionable Time panels to appear on? Or is it just that our FEARS have got all out of proportion? Those fears are played upon by people like recently-retired Gollum, Nice Mr Dr Reid and his Conservatory Shadow Minister for Hanging and Flogging Mr Davis David.

Politicians are inclined to place BLAME. If they are on the LEFT then are likely to blame difficulties on a CONSPIRACY of BOSSES and ADVERTISERS to SAP our WILLS; those on the RIGHT will probably blame difficulties on LACK of MORAL FORTITUDE.

But the things that are wrong (or at least the ones that I think are wrong) in our country – the growing gap between haves and have-nots, the unacceptable levels of illiteracy that leaves people trapped in poverty, the rising tide of personal debt, the culture of working long hours for inadequate reward that robs families of together time, the cynicism and overwhelming apathy that leaves people thinking that they cannot change anything – these problems are COMPLICATED.

They are all tangled up with each other and certainly not susceptible to a PANACEA solution like "oh, if only everyone lived in nice families like they used to".

Often if people are comfortable enough, then they would rather things stayed the same rather than causing a lot of fuss and upset in order to change things, even if it is to change them for the better. Because in the end, who is to say what "BETTER" actually means? Some minister say in Whitehall or the bloke or bloke-ess who will have to do the changing?

To be fair to Mr Drunken Swerve, although he's stuck with Mr Balloon's grandiloquent language of "mending society", his actual suggestions are aimed more at the specific target of addressing performance in schools.

On the whole this is an aim that is worth PRAISING, so long as it is about the OPPORTUNITY for the kids, and not just an EXCUSE to go "Back to Bedsocks".

Mind you, Mr Paul has already pointed out that "children in married families" leads to "children do better in school" might be a bit of a FALSE ASSOCIATION.

"Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc," as Mr President Bartlet would put it.

It could be that the sort of people who have kids who do better in school are ALSO the sort of people who stay in married families, but one does not CAUSE the other.

You would not, for example, say: "all the evidence shows that if the children do better in schools then it promotes lasting marriage between their parents. Therefore, we're going to MAKE those kids do better with a tax credit for passing exams!" Well, not unless you were BARMY, anyway!

The The Today Programme invited Mr Drunken Swerve along to debate his new plans with Mr Millipede Minor who it turns out is responsible for the breakdown of society. Bet he didn't realise THAT was on his card when he said "yes" to Mr Frown last week!

Millipede Minor was challenged to say whether he thought it was better for a couple to be married rather than just to live together, and he was STUMPED! This, obviously, is because he is from the Labour and sincerely believes that the government should control everybody's lives. The Liberal answer to the question is: "IT IS NONE OF THE GOVERNMENT'S BUSINESS!"

Daddy Alex points out that the government DOES have a FINANCIAL interest in people staying in couples. This is because couples tend to LOOK AFTER each other, mutual support staving off reliance on the state benefits and the NHS.

Though we shouldn't be coming up with policy on the basis of what is most ECONOMICALLY ADVANTAGEOUS for the government, but on the basis of what is the best way that the government can serve people.

And of course that is still NOT a good reason for the government to PRESCRIBE the SORT of "family" – one mummy, one daddy, kids and Timmy the Dog – that it wants people to be in. Gay daddies, extended families, single parents, networks of aunties… people are capable of coming up with THEIR OWN kind of families and they are probably better at finding one that is right for THEM than Mr Drunken Swerve's one-size-fits-all 1950's nuclear knitting-pattern.

It is quite right that the benefit system should not PENALISE children just because their parents split up. If it did, you would risk trapping mummies (AND DADDIES!) in abusive or destructive relationships. EQUALLY though, you do not want to make people BETTER OFF by splitting because then you are actually encouraging families to break up.

You want a tax and benefit system that protects the opportunities of the children regardless of their parents' choices or mistakes.

So there MAY be some merit in Mr Drunken Swerve's suggestion that the current system needs to be fairer – but NOT in the way he suggests correcting it.

So that should be our SECOND question: will Mr Drunken Swerve's plan fix ANYTHING?

Well, his plan appears to work like this: first, hand out a large reward to people for being married as a sop to the "traditional family values" crowd; second, try to drive poor people into work through a range of punitive measures that will cut their access to benefits so that you can save the money you just spent on rewarding marriage; and third, privatise the education system.

If you want that in more DETAIL, then the key points from Mr Drunken Swerve's suggestions include:

"Married couples to be able to transfer tax allowance, worth about £20 a week, if one parent is not working, such as if one stays at home to bring up a child. Will cost £3.2bn a year"
Paid for by "savings in benefits".

…or CUTS, as those used to be called.

"Lone parents on benefits expected to work 16 hours a week when their youngest child reaches five and 30 hours a week when their youngest child reaches 11"
…thus no longer qualifying for benefits. Ah, THAT'S where those "savings" come from!

"To qualify for Job Seeker's Allowance, applicants should "be spending all their time" looking for work"
…so, not eight hours a day sleeping, then.

"Contract out welfare-to-work programmes to private firms and voluntary groups"
…or WORKHOUSES as they were called in the Victorian Age.

"Charities and parents to be allowed to set up schools free of local authority control in cases where existing schools are deemed to be failing"
…would that be the sort of "charities" that are normally called "private schools"? Or the sort of "charities" that run Creationist Christian Foundations like the Vardey City McAcademies?

"Make voluntary work part of the school curriculum"
…and in English classes we can teach the new definition of "voluntary".

"reward children who undertake community work with pop concert tickets"
…no, seriously.

How are ANY of these ideas supposed to "mend" our society?

"19th Century Solutions for 21st Century Problems," is how Liberal Democrat Mr David "He is the" Laws described them.

If our society IS broken, then it seems to me that the thing that broke it was the "Me, me, me" attitude that the Conservatories created in the Eighties and that Lord Blairimort has only continued.

And now the Conservatories want to be the "Not me, guv" party that seeks to PASS THE BUCK to charities and individuals. They are hardly a ROLE MODEL for a new COMPASSIONATE society.

What we need is a government that says we will not interfere with your successes, but we will be there to catch you if you fall. A government that INVESTS in education to RESCUE failing schools, not one that sells them off. A government that thinks we should be REHABILITATING prisoners, not just locking them up for longer and longer and longer. A government that isn't going to legislate to force every family to have 2.4 children. A government that TRUSTS people. A Liberal Democrat Government.

1 comment:

gemnoire said...

Though I'm not massively well aquainted with research on education per se, I do know that research in relation to delinquency has generally found that yes, children with two parents on the whole are less likley to be involved in anti-social behaviour than with one parent.

But once research started looking at it closer, they found that the most important factor was parental attention, with a loving, attentive single parent resulting in equal outcomes to two loving, attentive parents. But that children growing up in disruptive but two parent households did very badly.

So really, exact make-up on the household matters less than parental attention... somehow everyone seems to miss that one