An Antediluvian Tory Press Causes Problems for David Cameron

20 March 2013

Today’s papers make dreadful reading for anyone with an interest in modern, reformed conservatism. They are a reminder – if it were needed – that the Tory press is estranged from the Prime Minister. Mr Cameron has played his part in the breakdown of relations (his behaviour over press-regulation has hardly helped) but he is hardly the only guilty party.

Today is one of those days you look at the headlines and just wonder what decade it is. An Insult To Stay At Home Mothers screams the Mail. The Telegraph is only modestly more restrained: PM’s ‘slur’ on stay-at-home mothers. Good lord, you may think and wonder, what on earth Mr Cameron has done now? Perhaps he has branded stay-at-home mothers a collection of selfish, workshy misfits? So you take a squint at the detail and you see that, actually, the government has announced a plan for a childcare credit for some families in which both parents work. What an insult to people who will neither need nor therefore receive this bauble!

According to the Tory press this insults and punishes mothers who choose to look after their kids at home (or, I suppose, who have to do so because they cannot find work). This is as logical as saying Tom is ‘punished’ because he doesn’t receive a present on  Bobby’s birthday. And vice versa.


Good grief. Where and when are these people living? The Tory’s press’s evident preference – Tim Montgomerie is only a little more restrained – is for mothers to stay-at-home. That’s their prerogative but they should not be so surprised that politicians who need to win votes from women view these matters differently.

Indeed, it is hard to think of a more efficient way of losing the sympathies of a couple of a couple of million lower-to-middle middle-class women than suggesting, these days, that their proper place is always in the home. Sometimes all that stuff about the Tories having a problem with women voters seems very easy to explain.

This, for god’s sake, is 2013. No-one, I think, considers stay-at-home mums a problem. That’s their right. (In such cases there is a case for a transferrable tax allowance). But, blimey, making life a little easier for women who choose or have no choice but to work is no punishment for mums-at-home. It simply doesn’t effect them. In any case, when did Tories adopt this all must have prizes philosophy?

I am, mercifully, no expert in childcare and I suspect it would be more useful – and simpler – to lower costs by reducing the regulatory burden on childcare providers and thereby drive down the cost of childcare by expanding its provision. (Who knows, perhaps we could source half a million new child-carers from, say, Romania and Bulgaria?) This would be preferable to more tinkering of the kind announced this week.

Nevertheless, we are where we are and this measure – which seems likely to assist, eventually, as many as 2.5 million families – is hardly an outrage. Indeed, it’s the sort of thing people – perhaps erroneously – think government is actually for. It’s supposed to help a little bit when and where it can.

Most of all, broadly speaking, I think you’d struggle to find many people under the age of 40 who are appalled or outraged or betrayed by this, far less many who really feel insulted or punished. This may reflect my own selection biases of course but, really, I look at today’s Tory papers and wonder where and when these people are living and to whom they think the modern Tory party should be trying to appeal. Because, on the evidence of today’s papers, it sure ain’t middle-class (and metropolitan!) women.

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  • StephanieJCW

    Yes I don’t get how not being entitled to a benefit means you are being punished.

    By that logic I am being punished because I don’t get child benefit. The fact I don’t have children is completely irrelevant.

  • Tim Almond

    “But, blimey, making life a little easier for women who choose or have no choice but to work is no punishment for mums-at-home.”

    It’s still economic interference. People who might actually be more economically productive by staying at home and being housewives are now incentivised to get employment instead (and for a lot of women who go to work, the difference is already marginal).

  • Channing Walton

    Can we stop talking about stay-at-home mums and talk about stay-at-home parents? This is 2013, fathers stay at home and look after their children too:

  • Hague’s Catamite

    I just had a brief glance over this article and I suppose I do agree with much of what Alex said. However, what is deeply disappointing is the quality of the grammar and (probably) spelling being used by Alex.

    I mean, what is the use of saying ” The Tory’s press’s evident preference”?

    Or, “It simply doesn’t effect them.”

    Is this more proof positive of how Labour’s Marxist policies have damaged education in Scotland and elsewhere?

    The fact that he has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize tells me all I need to know considering that Johann Hari was once a winner….

  • David Webb

    Alex, I knew for ages you were not a proper conservative. Government policy should not be to subside latchkey childrearing so that mothers can go to work and thus support property prices in the interests of the banks.

    • StephanieJCW

      Mothers or fathers can work. It’s strange the way it’s just given that us women are mean tot be at homes with the kids. Screw the job, that’s for menfolk.

  • Will Honeycomb

    You increasingly seem to me not to have a clue.

  • Terry Field

    Every true Tory gentleman knows that his Dear Lady Wife should be at the sink, and this is particularly appropriate when the economy is sunk.

    • StephanieJCW


  • andagain

    Why do stay at home mothers need subsidised childcare? I notice that these are the people who demand spending cuts!

    Of course when modern Conservatives demand tax and spending cuts, they mean tax cuts for themselves, and spending cuts for others.

  • timinsingapore

    Watching all this from a distance, one is struck by the extent to which the Telegraph in particular now has all the characteristics of a tabloid rag, seizing on spurious headline issues to extract every ounce of sensation (the Mail has been a tabloid rag for a long time); and how weird Conservative backbenchers seem to have become. The party, at the backbencher and grassroots level, seems (seen from a distance) to have lost touch with reality, a bit like the Tea Party in the US, committed to policies that will condemn the Tories to opposition for a generation. Tory MPs seem to be living in a hermetically sealed chamber, mutually reinforcing their eccentric opinions, drifting ever more dramatically away from reality within the UK, and even more so from the rest of the world. It makes an interesting spectacle, but it’s a bit depressing.

  • Nicholas K

    Alex, you have already rebutted your own outrage about the outrage over the issue. You recognise that there is a case for a transferrable tax allowance for stay-at-home mums. Exactly, and that case has fallen on deaf ears.

    As Kernow Castellan has commented, we are living in a post-Brown dependency culture, predicated on the assumption that all income belongs to the State, which distributes bounty to the client group of the party in power. Conservatives do not however share that slack-minded assumption. In one of his increasingly rare lucid intervals, David Cameron showed a fleeting grasp of this at the 2012 Party Conference when he pointed out to Ed Milliband the following; “Ed let me explain how it works. When people earn money, it’s their money. Not the government’s money: their money.‘Then the government takes some of it away in tax. So if we cut
    taxes, we’re not giving them money – we’re taking less of it away. OK?”

    The attitude of No.10 today is however that people’s money should be taken away from them and given to another favoured client group for reasons irreconcilable with what was in the Manifesto. The jibe that that this is an all must have prizes philosophy is not an answer: all interested parties here have children and it is a question of whether the State should skew the help it gives to those with children through a scheme designed in such a way that only certain of the families with children are helped.

  • perdix

    The Daily Wail and The Daily Nimbygraph believe they have to create hysteria to revive their flagging print sales.

  • Kernow Castellan

    This is a sorry reflection of just how successful Gordon Brown was in creating a culture of state dependency.

    Twenty years ago, middle class people were eligible for, but did not take, state handouts. People were proud to stand on their own two feet, and taking no handouts was worn as a badge of pride. People who earned twice the national average thought of themselves as successful and independent.

    Brown has now generated a wealthy upper-middle class that is convinced it is poor, has no shame in taking state support intended for the lowest in society, and wails loudly as soon as removal of the public teat is threatened.

    All the political parties (even UKIP) are campaigning for higher public spending in order to placate the relatively wealthy (85% of the population earns less than £42k).

    I despair.

  • peterbuss

    Alex- it as the language used by the No10 spokesperson which has done the damage – noit the actual measure itself. The spokesperson chose to frame this measure as saying it would benefit those Mums who worked hard and wanted to get on. Therein lies the insult to stay at home mums.I am a longstanding and loyal supporter of David Cameron but even I found the language an utter disgrace.

  • commenteer

    Child benefit has been removed from families with one earner on £40,000. Child care vouchers are to be issued to families whose joint income is £300,000. Are you sure you don’t see a problem with this?
    Transferable allowances have been rejected again and again, by the way.

  • Mr Creosote

    “I am, mercifully, no expert in childcare and I suspect it would be more useful – and simpler – to lower costs by reducing the regulatory burden on childcare providers and thereby drive down the cost of childcare by expanding its provision. ”
    This is by far the simplest option, instead this Government have progressively increased the regulatory burden:
    Arbitrarily assessed business rates – about to increase in the budget by 2.5%
    “Real-time information” requirement from HMRC (more red tape and higher accountancy costs)
    Pensions for all employees from next year (more additional cost to the childcare provider).
    Meanwhile, OFSTED are busily shutting down nurseries across the land, reducing not expanding, childcare provision…….You couldn’t make it up!

  • Mr Grumpy

    You’re free to choose but you only get a sweetie if Nanny approves of your choice. That’s modern conservatism?

    “No-one, I think, considers stay-at-home mums a problem.” On the contrary, James Kirkup was saying at the Telegraph only yesterday that the whole point is that they are a problem and the government would do well to stop pretending otherwise. A position which at least has the virtue of honesty.

    • Grrr8

      Not sure where your criticism is coming from. Neither modern or traditional conservatism has a problem with playing Nanny to the population!

      Alex rightly points out in his article that a better solution would be to reduce regulations on childcare to make it cheaper. But can you imagine the reaction from the Daily Fail on that one? Those awful Romanians taking care of our lily white children, quelle horreur!

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