Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And for the tiebreaker, complete the following...

There are many powerful arguments against the new/old Tory idea that the way to solve poverty is by promoting marriage. But to really understand how feeble the policy is, you shouldn't read what its opponents say, but what its supporters argue.

Daniel Finkelstein, who used to work for the Tory Party and is now Comment Editor of the Times, offered up the following:

"At the same time, there is a broad consensus that there isn’t much that can, or even ought, to be done about it [relationship breakdowns causing poverty]. The political reason for inactivity is simple — there are too many unmarried parents with votes."

You can see his point. After all, no Conservative politician between 1979 and 1997 ever criticised lone parents, or suggested that young women only got pregnant in order to get a council house, or dared to speak up for marriage, or called for a return to 'Victorian values', so great was their terror of the single mother block vote. And New Labour didn't dare to stick to Tory spending plans and cut lone parent benefit...

The Tories had eighteen years to promote marriage. If there were any policies which they didn't try out, then it wasn't because of political unpopularity, but because the suggestions would have been regarded as too right-wing, stigmatising and unworkable by people like Norman Tebbit, Michael Howard and Maggie Thatcher.

The passage above is taken from an article which argues that "If all the obesity campaigners and their fellow travellers expended the same energy on the campaign for marriage and families as they spent on their crusade against salt and vinegar crisps, the world would be a better place." Apparently, the reason why people campaign against child obesity but not for marriage is that obesity can be blamed on companies, which people are happy to do, whereas campaigning for marriage requires telling people that they are behaving badly, which we are reluctant to do.

Back in the real world, of course, the situation is exactly the opposite. The government, the media, the majority of people are more than happy to sign up to any sort of analysis in which poverty is caused by people behaving wrongly, whereas the clearly demonstrable link between poverty, relationship break-ups and rising inequality since the 1980s doesn't get a look in. As people are required to accept lower wages, with less job security and fewer rights at work, then it will clearly take its toll on their relationships, and trying to do something about this would do more good than any number of interventions to try and change people's behaviour.

Back in ToryWorld, the search for evidence that 'marriage works' continues, and reaches a bathetic conclusion:

"There is every reason to believe that for couples of a given level of commitment, the average duration of the relationship would be increased by the act of marriage.

Why? Because of consistency and commitment.

On cereal packets, you will find competitions with a tie break answer. "I like Cereal X because..." Ever think why they do this?

The Chinese used to make prisoners of war write confessions and express support for the communist regime. Once prisoners had committed this thought to paper, they were highly likely to stick with it. Weight loss programmes use the same technique - getting clients to publicly announce their goal weight and their progress toward it."

If the best they can do for evidence in support of their policy is an analogy with cereal promotions, then that makes the point about the credibility of the Tory case far better than I could.


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