Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Labour and Marriage

Interesting piece from Tom Harris on Labours agnosticism about supporting marriage.

But if we, as a party, insist on maintaining our carefully-crafted agnostic position on marriage, we will be in danger of talking a language that is absolutely alien to the vast majority of our constituents. Most of my electorate don’t see the need for intellectual gymnastics to come to the conclusion that marriage should be celebrated, and they probably don’t understand why their political representatives tip-toe around this issue.

There’s a reason why weddings are basically big parties with lots of laughter and cheering. The Left would be making a big mistake if, instead of joining in the Slosh, they sat impassively, and non-judgmentally, on the sidelines, drinking a still water and refusing to get a round in.

Harris is responding to a recent Fabian Society publication on the Lefts attitude to the family, which includes this observation:

The liberal left has wanted to avoid a politics of stigma, so rightly steers clear of making value judgments about non-traditional family structures. In addition, the historic subordinate role of women in the family has led to fears amongst some that talking about the family would reverse the gains of feminism in challenging the treatment of women as second class citizens. So the left does not talk about 'the family' anymore. (Tim Horton)

The interesting thing is that Horton wants to recast our notion of the family as talking about quality of relationships, rather than the institution of marriage and the family unit. I wonder if you need both/and. This is one to watch: the Conservatives have a strong message about family in their Broken Society work, and it's important to work out what people mean when they use a label. For Gordon £rown, the family is primarily an economic unit ('hard working families') where adults work hard an pay tax, and children work hard so that they can become the economic units of the future (I'm caricaturing, but not too much!)

There's also a danger that 'family values' becomes code for a narrow promotion of marriage and raising children within marriage, without attention to the quality of that household - quality of relationships, quality of life (poverty, environment), quality of our cultures attitude to children and relationships etc.

If the left starts getting hold of a narrative about 'family', there will be some interesting debates ahead about what we mean when we use the word, and what vision of the Good Family people are working to.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the interesting response, which we've noted on the Fabian blog Next Left