Left Watch

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The Guardian is determined to subvert the Coalition's marriage policy

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-07-14 at 08.06.08Guido Fawkes wrote yesterday that Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat Education Minister, may blow her top during a teachers' union lobby of Parliament next Monday - and assail the Building Schools for the Future reductions being introduced by her own Department.  If she did so yesterday during a speech she gave to the Family and Parenting Institute (FPI), the Guardian doesn't say so this morning, but it does report that she described marriage policy as one of the few areas of substantial difference between the Coalition partners, and said that she'd "no idea" when the promised marriage tax break would be implemented.

So far, so predictable: Liberal Democrat says she disagrees with Tory policy (on which her Party, under the terms of the Coalition Agreement, will abstain in Parliament).  However, the Guardian goes on to report that the acting Chairman of the Centre for Social Justice, Samantha Callan, then suggested that the tax break may be held over until the next Parliament.  "I don't think it will happen quickly, for several reasons," she's reported to have said. "Why set the cat among the pigeons?"  Ms Callan suggested that the Coalition believes it more important first to eliminate the couples penalty in the tax credit system.

There are two possibilites.  The first is that Ms Callan has inside information about a Treasury plan to renege on a commitment plainly set out in the Coalition Agreement.  This is possible, but extremely unlikely.  The second is that she believes that the Department of Work and Pensions - about which she's well informed - attaches a high priority to fixing a problem which affects couples on tax credits (and not just married ones).  I would put my money on the second.  I know Ms Callan very slightly: she's a long-standing commitment to social justice - as Iain Duncan Smith can attest - and has had good relations with the Party for a long time.

She may also have been mindful of her audience.  The FPI was set up by the last Labour Government and has a left-of-centre slant.  Its Chair is Fiona Millar, Alistair Campbell's partner and committed opponent of Tony Blair's academies.  An ex-Labour Minister is one of its trustees (Chris Pond, my old opposite number from Work and Pensions days, and a longstanding campaigner: the FPI's website suggests that he's also running a quango.)  It's been in hot water before, when its Chief Executive said that the days of the 'typical family" are numbered.

Whatever the answer may be, this episode demonstrates the Guardian's determination to disturb the settled policy of the Coalition on marriage.  Its report refers again to the Institute of Fiscal Studies report claiming that marriage doesn't make relationships more stable - an assertion rebutted recently on this site by Harry Benson.  I wasn't at the FPI Conference, but wouldn't be surprised if Teather's remarks were concentrated on SureStart - the Coalition wants to focus it on deprived families - rather than marriage.  (Her views on SureStart were reported near the end of the Guardian's story.)  The paper's entitled to believe that Britain should be one of the few countries in Europe not to recognise marriage.  And the Government's at liberty to disagree - as it does, and is signed up to doing.