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Fraser Nelson misrepresents Cameron's pro-fatherhood message

By Tim Montgomerie
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BARRIE: FATHERLESS Over at The Spectator Fraser Nelson has (like me earlier) responded to David Cameron's article on fatherhood. Unfortunately I fear Fraser has grabbed the wrong end of the stick and been unfair to the Prime Minister in at least three respects:

Fraser Nelson incorrectly implies that Cameron is attacking all absent fathers, writing "in Britain, absent dads are in their millions — and they may now think twice about voting Conservative."  Wrong. Cameron is only talking about "runaway dads" - dads who give up on being fathers to their kids. In his article Cameron is actually careful to distinguish between runaway and absent dads:

"In the end, it will be the daily habits and decisions of Britain’s fathers that will determine if we succeed. On their decision to financially and emotionally support their child even if they’ve split up from their mother; to spend time with their kids at weekends, taking them to the football or the playground; to go to the nativity play and take an interest in their child’s education."

Perhaps there is an even clearer expression to use than runaway father? Unwilling fathers? I can't immediately think of an ideal, can't-be-confused term.

Fraser's first error leads him into his second error. He warns Cameron against talking about moral issues because he may have imperfect ministers in his team. Fraser asks: "If Cameron has denounced the millions of absent British fathers as being “beyond the pale” how can he hire any?" Cameron didn't, I repeat, attack the millions of absent fathers, but the fathers who don't do anything for their children. Fraser fears Cameron is in danger of repeating John Major's "back to basics" debacle:

"The moralising politician — can come back to haunt you. In [Major's] case, Tim Yeo was discovered to have a love child. Thatcher found this was true of Cecil Parkinson. Perhaps Cameron will break a habit, and become the first Tory PM since Heath not to discover one of his ministers has a love child. But if he hasn’t, then how could he fail to sack him?"

When family breakdown costs every taxpayer £1,364 each and every year a politician cannot ignore the subject for fear of one of his ministers getting caught in an adulterous relationship. Most people I know who are separated from their children readily admit, themselves, that it's far from an ideal situation. Voters are grown up enough to believe that it is better for a government to build a pro-family culture even if some ministers fail their own families, than to have a government that is indifferent to the family.

Thirdly, Fraser attacks Cameron's belief that society can be changed by "exhortation rather than legislation". I'm with Fraser in believing that legislation is much more important than exhortation in rebuilding the family and we both agree that the Liberal Democrats are the main problem in blocking important pro-family tax and benefit reforms. But Cameron's drunk driving parallel is a good one. We should build a culture where runaway fatherhood is as socially unacceptable as getting in a car, unfit to drive. Neighbours, friends and extended family members should push a father to play football with his son or babysit for his daughter. Perhaps, next time the Archbishop of Canterbury enters the public square he could choose this as a topic.

My only small complaint about the PM's article was that he could have addressed the issue of mothers who make it very hard for willing fathers to play a role in the lives of their kids. Some dads struggle to have contact with their children, despite their best efforts. If society wants committed dads it needs systems that support them.

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