Thursday, 9 April 2015

Why I am a conservative III: family values

III. Family values matter

By family values, I mean the Tony Blair interpretation - the idea that the two-parent family is quite a good way to bring up children, and should be supported. I do not mean - hopefully, by 2015, this will cause little surprise - that I hate gays, want to ban abortion or stem-cell research, or point at single mothers in the street.

It does mean that some things I hear make me angry. Take the phrase "single-parent family", which replaced the earlier "broken home". "Broken home" is judgmental, yes. That judgment has an immediate emotional resonance for me. I spent some of my childhood in a broken home. The description fits really well. I don't say it would for everybody.

Now "single-parent family" is less judgmental, but for me it is a lie. I wasn't in a "single parent family": I had two parents, one of them had custody, one had access. A majority of "single parent families" are, like mine, not single-parent families at all but two-parent families of whom one parent is not in the house, either having left or never having arrived.

Beyond vocabulary, the point is that there is no useful judgment-free definition of a family. A family is a set of people who have obligations to each other. It is a good idea for a society to have public expectations about what those obligations are and who has them.

Again, I do not long for the days when single mothers were shamed and their children put in orphanages. But this seems like a red herring. Why would I be blaming the mothers? A while back, I was talking to someone in my home town. He was a small-time criminal and drug dealer, and did not seem very nice. He told me he had a kid, but he'd moved out of the mother's home. Why? "She was doing my head in," basta.

On the face of it - and of course superficial judgments can be mistaken - I did not really think that was OK. Is it?

So, then, after making all allowances for the huge complexity of human relationships, would we not, quite likely, want to blame somebody who behaved like that?

And if you don't like the idea of blaming people who heaven knows are facing difficult enough lives, with tight enough material constraints and few enough spiritual resources, might you not at least blame the society that has created the message that thinking that way, acting that way, is OK?

I don't especially see why this would make anyone vote Conservative in 2015. Tony Blair practically cared much more about this kind of family values than David Cameron seems to. But it matters. Most thinking people in America, Left or Right, seem to have understood this. Few in Europe do.