Coffee House

Cameron takes a brave line on family policy

11 January 2010

David Cameron’s speech today at the launch of Demos’s Character Inquiry was both brave and significant. His message was that it is parenting, not material wealth, that plays the most important role in determining a child’s prospects in life. As Cameron put it, ‘What matters most to a child’s life chances is not the wealth of their upbringing but the warmth of their parenting.’

This message is easily caricatured — ‘Millionaire Cameron says poverty doesn’t matter’ — but it is important and, as recent academic research shows, true. (This is not to say, that poverty doesn’t matter, it clearly does, but that material poverty is not the sole determinant).

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Cameron’s other message this morning was the importance of a culture that doesn’t destroy children’s innocence. Many people on the right think that talking about this stuff is nannying. But, to borrow a phrase from Peggy Noonan, our culture is ‘the ocean in which our children swim.’ Attempting to clean it up is a laudable aim. One way, short of regulation, for Cameron to do this if he wins the election is to use the Prime Ministerial bully pulpit to call out companies that put profits before principles.

There were a few interesting political points from the event today. Cameron once more used the marriage between a ‘man and woman, a man and a man and a woman and a woman’ line when defending his plan to offer support for marriage through the tax system, a clear sign that the Conservatives remain concerned about their policy been attacked as backward-looking. He also coined a rather neat new sound-bite, calling the policy his party’s ‘commitment to commitment.’ Frank Field made the point that seeing that the Labour government has spent £75 billion on tax credits and making work pay and that the economic expansion produced three million new jobs but the welfare rolls failed to reduce by anything like that amount shows that the current approach is not enough. As Field put it, ‘You shouldn’t be standing for public office if you think more of the same will do.’ This is a point the Conservatives should make more often and more publicly than they do.

The one moment at today’s event when Cameron looked uncomfortable was when Polly Toynbee asked him if he thought The Sun contributed to the premature sexualisation of children. Cameron blushed before saying that his children don’t read The Sun — and then, just in time, adding the word ‘yet’.

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    THX 1138, the chances of old Norm jumping ship are precisely zilch. Why should he, when he’s enjoying himself so much with Dave and the Clique affording him so much rich baiting material on an almost daily basis.

    What the old fox might be hoping for though, is that, given his proclivity for shooting himself in the foot, The Tieless and Clueless One finally tries to expel him from the Tory Party, at which point the mass exodus of the faithful will be such that UKIP will have to stage a Billy Graham style meeting to welcome them all.

  • Marcher Baron

    True, it is not for the government to tell us how to live our lives, but a bit of encouragement to make good choices would be a help. The current benefits system rewards those who split up and penalises those who stay together. All the evidence supports it being better for families to stay together, so clearly this is not a good choice in terms of the benefits accrued either to children or society.

  • Michael Booth

    Frank P
    ” No wonder Parliament has been relegated to a museum of stuffed dummies and its power and status drained down its shitters into the Thames en route for Brussels.”

    Not quite: Parliament happily rubber stamp Bill after Bill, Act after Act, without proper scrutiny or consideration, so that the statute book contains a labrynth of laws making each and every one of us criminals (in some shape or form) every day of our lives. It’s radical re-think time. I for one do not want a Parliament of troughers sitting all the time spewing out lawys which, bit by bit, centimetre by centimetre, make living in these islands something akin to hell on earth (Harpie’s Equalities Bill is going to be a doozer!). Time to savagely prune by the legislation-tree and get rid of full-time politicians. One Parliament meeting every five years for a couple of months at a time should do it.

  • Cuffleyburgers

    Oddly enough, Pot Head is right.

    It is not for the government to tell us how to live our lives.

    It is a sign of the degree to which socialism is embedded in that we are having this debate.

    As the Irish famously say “if oi wuz goin’ therre oi wouldn’t starrt from here” (sorry the entire population of Ireland – in other words we are so far off a sensible policy that it would be well not to think about changes, but about scrapping it and remaking a more sensible one.

    In the process, you would have a flat tax, with quite a high personal allowance, aim to eliminate 90% of categories of benefit, couples with children could pool their allowances, there would be benefits ofr unemployment, disability and a few others, 70% of the inland revenue would be SACKED, 95% of tax lawyers would go out of business because current 22000 pages or so of the tax code would shrink to 10.

    Compared with the necessity of a general reform of the tax system, frankly the nmarried couple’s allowance is a triviality, and I do not want an eventual incoming Cameron govt to be bogged down in this sort of minutiae.

  • Yam Yam

    Marriage is a spiritual and social contract undertaken between one man and one woman. Anything else is a pretend marriage.

  • General Zod

    Tebbit may have no choice but to bump ship, although Cameron would do best simply to ignore the embittered old fossil.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Fernando is right. Cause and effect are confused here. What if some people are just more responsible, and more likely to get married, bring up their kids better and generally behave in a way more likely to bring economic success too?

    And if we accept the premise that people who take more responsibility for their own lives do better, why is the constant aim of government to remove responsibility from those who are not doing well, and replace it with the state providing everything?

    Will Mr Cameron be reversing this? Will he repeal legislation which takes parenting responsibility away from parents and gives it to various organs of the state?

  • Pot Head

    The party of “small” Government lectures us how we should live our lives. I for one won’t be listening.

  • Any Colour but Brown

    Brown would find them comforting, as one himself,but he can recognise busted flushes when he sees them.”

    No, he can’t – he is one and still believes he saved the world.

  • THX1138

    TGF Yep I read the Chingford Stanglers new blog and good fun it was too. I note that he praised Brown, said he was only British politician showing any “grit” and then slagged off Dave for not wearing a tie.. I keep thinking that he will jump ship to you guys one day. But hey, he ain’t that dumb..

  • Verityred

    Tebbit is the decayed zombie high priest of a now departed cult. Wheezing from the sidelines, trying to blow life into his useless old Tory suicide squad. Brown would find them comforting, as one himself,but he can recognise busted flushes when he sees them.

  • Frank P


    Norm is a crafty old fox. He praises Brown and defames Cameron without mentioning his name. Obviously trying to edge a hung Parliament so that both the prats will perish in the aftermath. Norm to the rescue, perhaps? He has obviously been reading Verity’s pieces (except the Brown bit, that’s really wicked and DC must be spitting tacks). Heh, heh, heh!

  • Fernando

    I think we’d all agree that there is abundant evidence that married couples are healthier, their children are more successful at school and they accumulate more assets.

    The obvious question, when one looks at all these benefits of marriage, is whether marriage is responsible for the differences. If all, or almost all, arise because those who enjoy better health, live longer lives, or earn higher wages anyway are more likely to marry, then marriage is not “causing” any changes in these outcomes. Social scientists vigorously and often acrimoniously debate the extent to which marriage is responsible for these better outcomes. Is marriage just an indicator of commitment, not a cause?
    One of questions you need to answer is why has marriage declined as the preferred option. Are people less committed? Possibly, but not to extend we’ve witnessed. Fifty years ago the rest of society assumed people would demonstrate their commitment by marrying and certainly marrying before starting a family. There was a further expectation that this commitment would be life-long. There was a realisation that some marriages fail and the divorce laws recognised this failure. There was certainly a presumption against people moving in and out of short-term relationships.
    Introducing a tax break for marriage won’t in itself alter matters overnight. However, it helps. As Cameron said a while ago “society can pull some policy levers to encourage or discourage behaviors. It’s because it’s empirically proven that marriage provides a stable framework for our lives. With the evidence right in front of us, it’s madness not to support marriage. That’s why we’re committed to introducing the recognition of marriage in the tax and benefit system.”
    Most other countries recognise marriage in the tax system and Labour did so recently by allowing married couples to transfer their allowances in the IHT system, so our policy is hardly unique..


    Great to see Norman Tebbit now has a blog over at The Coffee House gets assorted lefties, they get the Great Lord. How unfair is that.

    Somehow, though, I don’t think there is going to be to many links, or even mentions, for it from the house mag hacks.

  • Nicholas

    It’s a shame that the moment Cameron says anything it is immediately “characterised” as something else or twisted to create a hostile soundbite. What a truly sad and shallow society we live in when what someone says is not heard except when it is manipulated into something else to satisfy prejudices and preconceptions. All of which is the fault of the culture of spin and lies created by you know who and his successor.

  • Frank P

    I did try very had to read the link and nodded off three times; then I gave up. Come to think of it I cannot remember a single inspiring phrase that any one of the leaders of the current three main parties has ever said or written. All three are boring bullshitters. Is this really the best that politics can produce in Britain? No belly fire; no mien; no eloquence; no charisma; no twinkle; no wit! No wonder Parliament has been relegated to a museum of stuffed dummies and its power and status drained down its shitters into the Thames en route for Brussels.

  • DZ

    Good statements on marriage and children.

    But, this statement rankled: “to call out companies that put profits before principles”. That strikes me as naive: every business has to make a profit and every business that finds itself in difficulty has to apply the screws to stay solvent. Can he make such a statement because he has no real experience of business ? Or does he have a theoretical list of principles that come before earning a dividend for shareholders or owners? I don’t need to tell Speccie readers that no profit = no business. So what is on his mind? And which company? BP? for talking about hiring Mandelsohn?

  • JS Mill

    Politicians should abandon concern for marriage and concentrate on incentives. Means tested benefits make it worthwhile being poor and creates the poverty trap and that is why poverty has not fallen but increased so abolishing means testing is critically important. This can be done by paying benefits according to circumstances and making them time limited. Eg, unemployment for five years in a lifetime, child benefit limited to 12 years from the birth of the last child and no benefits until one has worked for 2 years in total. Then, dependent youngsters would get jobs or education, parents would insist on and they would get important experience and develop a work ethic. People would not have more children than they can afford just for the benefits and it would be worthwhile parents living together and caring for their children.
    If not means tested then they would be paid to the rich but if benefits were taxable much can be clawed back and admin would cost a fraction of the present cost so far more could be paid out, enabling the simplification of the system.

  • AndyinBrum

    Where does Tennant come into this argument?

  • JohnAnt

    Cameron is watering down his original valid point, which is that marriage between a man and a woman (as opposed to conditional commitments between partners of any and all genders) has a prime, primary, now more vital then ever social use:
    No, that’s not a joke.

  • JSMill

    Unless Cameron ends the setting up of teenage girls with a home and income for getting pregnant, paying women for having more children than they can care for and means testing benefits so that fathers cannot afford to live with their families he is p****** in the wind.

    Far better to limit benefits to the over 21s and limit child benefit to two children only. If benefits were time limited, non-means tested and taxable then it would make it worthwhile for parents to live together and much of it could be clawed back from the rich.

  • McKenzie

    Poverty sucks and ‘neat soundbites’ don’t change anything, except maybe a guilty complex.

  • Holly ……

    Cameron uesd the comment, a man and a woman,
    a man and a man and a woman and a woman to refute the way it is being portrayed as tax breaks for only traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
    If he does not keep making the statement that ALL married couples/civil partnerships will be recognised in this and Labour persist in giving the impression that’only traditional married couples’ qualify for this ,how will people know the correct policy details? people will only hear Labour’s take on the policy.
    Even though Labour are telling only a part of it.
    When the majority of people think of marriage they think of a man and a woman,
    because civil partnerships are so new.
    Didn’t couples planning to get married also plan the date to coincide with the new tax year?

  • Philip Walker

    The bully pulpit point is an important. Would that politicians were more willing to use that rather than reaching for legislative gun all the time. It may be less effective in terms of immediate results, but it would improve relations between politicians and society at large.

  • Holly ……

    I have just listened to DC’s 5 live interview.
    What do others think?

  • Simon Duncan

    I think it was the eminent TV psychologist Frasier Crane that first used the rather twee phrase, “it’s time to commit to commitment”when he wanted to settle down. Perhaps Mr. Cameron is a fan of American sitcoms!

  • Fergus Pickering

    How ridiculous this is! How many houses has Alistair Darling got? How much money has our Gordon got? They are ALL rich compared to the rest of us. They belong to the ruling class. Bugger me – they RULE, don’t they? And David Tennant who can’t stand Tories. How much money has HE got? I suppose it’s leftie money so it’s all right. It is IMPOSSIBLE to be a Labour supporter among the luvvies, among the politicians, among the chattering clases, and not be a hypocrite. And so they are, the lot of them, hypocrites and liars. Tennant shouldbe ashamed of himself, but of course he’s an ACTOR, isn’t he? Thinking isn’t his strong suit. Nor is acting, come to that, but we’ll pass over that. Hamlet!

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