Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More charm than Coriolanus

I don`t recall my Machiavelli too well, but there are most likely several pages of advice on how The Prince must seem reluctant to take up the crown.

The queen`s fifth cousin David Cameron is, conspiciously, an incredibly nice guy. In a speech today he may remind listeners that being a father is even more important to him than becoming Prime Minister.

But who said he had to choose one or the other?

1 comment:

Caspar Henderson said...

Fatherhood and apple pie

Wednesday June 21, 2006
The Guardian

In shifting family life up the political agenda, David Cameron adroitly identifies himself with issues that interest people and shows that he can discuss them in terms that resonate with modern Britain. He also shows boldness, for there is no field in which the recent record of his party compares less favourably with that of a government that has doubled the rate and duration of maternity pay. If he is serious about helping families raise children, he will soon need a stronger suite of policies than he was able to offer in his speech yesterday.

Article continues
Family life is changing rapidly. For example, new research from the Equal Opportunities Commission shows an eight-fold increase in fathers' contribution to childcare in the last generation, which should be good news for parents of both sexes. Politicians are right to highlight these trends, but it is even more important that they set out plans to help the many fathers that the same study finds are still struggling to do their bit. Yet as recently as January, Mr Cameron dismissed as "political correctness" the government's proposal that where a mother returns to work early, her remaining maternity leave should be transferable to the father. This reflected his party's deep suspicion of state intervention to promote culture change. A few years ago the same impulse saw them oppose reforms to bolster flexible working - even though these left firms free to decline requests to change hours - that are now seen as a success by both sides of industry.

Poor households face extra strains that put pressure on family life, so it is hardly surprising that the EOC found that low-income fathers had the biggest problems in getting time off to spend with young children. So concern for family life provides a major reason to support the government's goal to end child poverty by 2020. The apparent conversion of the Conservatives to this is welcome, but on the detail they remain vague: Oliver Letwin goes out of his way to stress that so much is uncertain about 2020 that this cannot be a firm pledge. That may seem a fair point, except that the party's record is such that credibility requires them to be specific - where since 1997, child poverty has fallen by 100,000 per year, in the previous 18 Conservative years it instead increased by an annual average of 100,000 plus.

Continuing ambitions to cut tax constrain what the party can now offer poorer families. Mr Cameron made the welcome admission yesterday that tax changes will do little for them. Yet the presumption in favour of "trusting people with their own money" led to an eye-catching hint that Labour's £1bn childcare tax credit could eventually be replaced with tax relief on childcare. This would be hugely expensive and give most to higher earners, while offering less than the credit system to those who do not earn enough to pay much tax.

On lone parents, the speech tried most starkly to break from the past: it was "not just a case of the war on lone parents being over", but rather of "the weapons" having "been put beyond use". This paramilitary metaphor was needed because spokesman David Willetts declared his own cease-fire several years ago, after which the Conservatives presented an election platform that would have scrapped the successful new deal for lone parents, and forced lone parents even of young children to search for work.

It is this context which means that the Tories have an enormous amount to do to show that they really have moved on in terms of family policy. But if they are serious, they should be welcomed on to the territory. Labour has delivered huge amounts for parents, though there is far more for public policy to do in recognising the competing pressures that they face: services like health still lag behind. There should be a real role for an opposition party to chivvy the government to do better. For all yesterday's warm words, the question remains, whether it is a role the Conservatives can fulfil.