Didn’t David Cameron’s spiel about families just warm your heart? Nothing matters more than his family, apparently. Coming from a creature like him, that sounds more than anything like a freakish cross between the Stepford Wives and the Thought Police, but, you know, whatever. For a moment there, I could almost smell the apple crumble.
It’s not that I have any kind of problem with parents being given the state support they need. That is a good thing. This post is not a complaint about the fact that policies are now meant to be parent-friendly. It is a complaint about the fact that our dear leader seems to have decided that his election campaign and subsequent policies will seemingly be based in a wholly inappropriate appeal to the nation’s rose-tinted spectacles. If your family are best when they’re a long way away, or you don’t want children, marriage, monogamy, or relationships, you’re in for a rough ride.
Cameron’s announcement this morning that traditional family values would be at the heart of the Tory gameplan left me cold, rather than warm. “There are some cases where it is better for parents to split up,” he told the BBC. “I wouldn’t for one minute want to stop that.” Then came the “but”: “But where you can help people come together and stay together, then surely the government should play its part.” These measures, apparently, are about “persuading families to remain together”.
Let’s not lose sight of the facts here. This is still a society which, to a greater or lesser extent, stigmatises divorce. Divorcees were pariah for many years. It is telling that our prime minister is saying this stuff at all. And that we still talk about “failed” marriages. And that there’s such judgement in the phrase “She’s been married twice before”.
As recently as 2008, the country’s three largest charities that tackle domestic violence received less money put together than The Donkey Sanctuary. Most people still don’t really understand domestic violence and abuse, or how prevalent they are. All too often, people don’t need help to stay: they need help to leave.
Cameron is harping on about all these things our families apparently teach us: values, knowledge, good citizenship, cheese pie recipes, whatever. Yes, that’s the ideal. Yes, if we are fortunate then we will develop all these things and more with our families. Personally, I couldn’t wish for a better family. But not everyone is fortunate.
The NHS quotes findings that one in four women and one in six men will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in their lifetime. Fleeing domestic violence is a horrific ordeal. For the survivor, it can mean fleeing their entire support network with no money and no roof over their head (but it’s OK, because Dobbin the donkey has a new nosebag). The Tories should think very carefully before firing up the vast government PR machine aimed at making couples feel they should stay together if humanly possible.
But it’s OK, because he said that part about how sometimes you’re allowed to split up, right? Phew. Because those figures are so high, and so easy to come by, that if he hadn’t said that bit, I might have thought he was spouting ridiculous election rhetoric. Apparently this is a change in tone from his “broken Britain” theme, but it smacks of a superficial change only. After all, castigating divorcees in a country which has this many of them is not going to win him many votes.
Many, many people really do not have good relationships with their parents. I know some who say they have been happier since they minimised or even cut contact with them. Parents can be outright abusive, but less stark problems can also be immensely damaging. Whatever the reason, people should not be made to feel dysfunctional if they cannot find David Cameron’s rose-tinted family portrait experience in their biological relatives.
This also raises the question of whether the Tories think they’ve found a disingenuous way of washing their hands of all responsibility for young welfare claimants, who can now safely and securely return to their parental abode – which has magically become a safe, peaceful place to deal with the vicissitudes of unemployment and illness since they had some state-funded relationship counselling. That would be a convenient way of solving the housing shortage, wouldn’t it?
Just in case you think I’m sounding like a conspiracy theorist, this is what Cameron said this morning: “Long before you get to the welfare state, it is family that is there to care for you when you are sick or when you fall on tough times.”
He’s trying to put families “at the heart of his government,” apparently. In other words, we’re going to be hearing a whole lot more about this.
Are you a woman who doesn’t want children? Get yer character assassination here! Polyamorous? Don’t worry, you’ll soon get over it with David Cameron’s super discounted relationship therapy. In a happy home with friends? You must be a bot. People like that don’t actually exist.
This rhetoric sounds like clouds on the horizon. It is the sound of a hell of a lot of public money being spent on romanticising a white gown, with all the sexist, religious trappings. Of a highly questionable attempt to shoehorn the nation into sealed family units which can often act like pressure cookers, where crimes such as domestic violence and emotional abuse go under the radar as long as you keep it in the family. Of co-workers smirking a bigger, nastier smirk of publicly condoned entitlement when they probe me on why I’m not married. And I can tell you, if I told them, they really wouldn’t like the answer.