Time to take the mantle as the party of the family

First published on Progressonline

One of my earliest political memories is of John Major standing on his soapbox in the 1997 general election talking about ‘family values’. It pricked my interest: I was 13 and not only had my parents been divorced for some time, I was also coming to terms with being gay. I am not sure I knew what he meant – after all I thought my family was special, unique maybe, but normal. But at the same time, I knew his label did not include me.

The Tories have long laboured under the label of the party of the family, but yet again they fail to back the family. David Cameron’s Conservatives are pro-couples not pro-family. The marriage tax allowance is not dependent on need, or children, or helping people prepare for times of need or a new baby. They are about status.

Yesterday my team did us proud. In promising to near double paternity pay and double paternity leave they outlined something constructive and progressive. In much the same way I was attracted to New Labour policies in the early 2000s, it has the double whammy. Both good for all families and disproportionally good for the poorest families. It does not pitch one against another, but makes both stronger and provides fairness for the most disadvantaged.

What is great is this does not come from nowhere. It builds on a coherent position of the party for some months now. Lucy Powell gave the childcare brief the authority it needed. Liz Kendall’s guest edit on LabourList showed a holistic approach to those who’s top concern is getting shoe laces tied, packed lunches together and children to school before filling up at the petrol pump on the way to work. Since being moved to the childcare brief, Alison McGovern has acted to help the ‘default dad’ and family budgets. On Sunday, Tristram Hunt put SureStart back in the frame and Rachel Reeves on the Today programme yesterday eloquently hit the back of the net. Both for our team and for the family.

All of this leaves the Tories exposed. Many of their own policies have made it harder for families to prosper. The bedroom tax puts undue pressure on many who need it least: those looking after a disabled child, those trying to support their kid through an apprenticeship, those waiting for a serving son to return from duty in Afghanistan or beyond. Abolishing the ‘health in pregnancy grant’ makes it harder to prepare for a coming childhood and abolishing the child trust fund makes it harder to prepare for the coming adulthood.

The marriage tax alliance might be redistributive, but in the wrong way. It is regressive not progressive and we should not be ashamed to say so. Couples do not need out help – it is families who do because love some times is not enough and does not get food on the table and the kids bathed before bed.

Dads affording to be home for some of the time instead of none of the time is a great leap forward. I for one cannot wait to get on the doorstep and tell people why.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell

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