What was done by design can be undone the same way. But will there be enough political determination to do it?
Last Thursday, in an article snappily entitled “Why didn’t the looters’ parents know where they were? Why didn’t they teach them about right and wrong? Answer: society has undermined the family”, I quoted Fr Finigan saying that “For several decades our country has undermined marriage, the family, and the rights of parents… Now all of a sudden, we want parents to step in and tell their teenage children how to behave”, and Melanie Phillips pointing to “family breakdown and mass fatherlessness” as one of the principal underlying causes of the riots and looting of last week. I concluded (and I don’t apologise for returning to this theme now: a lot more needs to be said about it, and now is the time to say it) that of all the things the government now needs to do, “it’s the married family which is the institution that needs rebuilding most urgently”.
I am as certain of that as anything I have ever written, and I’ve been saying it for over 20 years: I was saying it, for instance, when I was attacking (in the Mail and also the Telegraph) as it went through the Commons the parliamentary bill which became that disastrous piece of (Tory) legislation called the Children Act 1989, which abolished parental rights (substituting for them the much weaker “parental responsibility”), which encouraged parents not to spend too much time with their children, which even preposterously gave children the right to take legal action against their parents for attempting to discipline them, which made it “unlawful for a parent or carer to smack their child, except where this amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’;” and which specified that “Whether a ‘smack’ amounts to reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case taking into consideration factors like the age of the child and the nature of the smack.” If the child didn’t think it “reasonable” he could go to the police. It was an Act which, in short, deliberately weakened the authority of parents over their children and made the state a kind of co-parent.
There are, of course, many other causes for the undermining of the married family (which David Cameron says he now wants to rebuild). Divorce, from the 1960s on, became progressively easier and easier to obtain. Another cause has been the insidious notion (greatly encouraged by successive governments but particularly under New Labour – Old Labour tended to be much more traditional in its views on the family) that the family has many forms, that marriage is just one option, and that lone parenting is just as “valid” (dread word) a form as any other. If you thought that voluntary lone parenting should be discouraged, rather than (as it was) positively encouraged by the taxation and benefits system, you were practically written off as a fascist.
Well, all this relativist rubbish has now been comprehensively shown by its consequences to have been dangerous drivel all along; and I am discovering that to be able to say “I told you so” is under the circumstances not at all as enjoyable as I had thought it might be: any satisfaction is of a very grim kind.
But it is now beyond any doubt, and we need to say so now, to nail the lies that have been spouted for the last 40 years once and for all. The conclusive proof of the existence and the effects of the widespread breakdown of parental responsibility (even where there are two parents) and also of the catastrophic consequences of the encouragement of lone parenting was to be found on the front page of the Times on Saturday, in an article to which I can’t give a link since you can’t get it online. I will have to summarise and quote extensively.
The headline was “Judge asks: where are the parents of rioters?” and it opens as follows:
Parents who refuse to take responsibility for children accused of criminal offences were condemned by a judge yesterday who demanded to know why the mother of a 14-year-old girl in the dock over the looting of three shops was not in court.
District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe was incredulous when told that the girl’s parents were too busy to see their daughter appear before City of Westminster magistrates after she was accused of offences during the violent disorder in London this week. She said that many parents “don’t seem to care” that their children were in court facing potentially lengthy custodial sentences.
Her comments echoed those a day earlier by District Judge Jonathan Feinstein when he highlighted the absence of parents at hearings in Manchester. “The parents have to take responsiblity for this child – apart from one case I have not seen any father or mother in court,” he said.
The Times had been conducting an investigation into the cause of the riots, and interviews with young people and community workers on estates across London revealed “deep concerns about the lack of parental authority”. Youth workers said that mothers (presumably in such cases there are no fathers) are “too terrified of their own children to confront them and often turn a blind eye to cash or stolen goods brought home”. Lone parenthood, it emerges, is in fact a primary cause of the August riots (as they are beginning to be called):
An analysis by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that, among other factors linking the 18 areas worst hit by public disorder, is a high rate of single-parent families and broken homes.
And in an interview with the Times today, Shaun Bailey, a youth worker recently appointed as the Government’s “Big Society” czar, argues that childraising has been “nationalised”.
Of the defendants who appeared before magistrates in Westminster yesterday accused of riot crimes across London, half were aged under 18, but few parents attended the hearings, even though their children had been in police custody for up to two days.
One member of the court’s staff said: “I can’t recall seeing any of the parents down here”… A boy of 15 was accused of looting a JD Sports shop in Barking, East London. A 17-year-old student from East London was also accused of receiving £10,000 of mobile phones, cigarettes and clothing looted from Tesco. The items and small quantity of cannabis were discovered in his bedroom at the family home… community workers admitted that broken families often led to children taking to crime.
One youth worker, who has helped children in Lambeth, south London, for 20 years, told the Times that single mothers were often scared of their sons. “They would not challenge them if they came home with stolen goods,” the worker, who did not wish to be named, said.
“In some cases these young men steal more than their mother earns or gets in benefit. They become the father figure, the main earner.” Young men echo the lack of authority. “My mum can’t tell me what to do,” said Lee, 18, from Copley Court, an estate in West Ealing. “It’s the same with young kids. Most of their dads left early on and they don’t listen to anyone.”
There isn’t much more to be said: all one can do is repeat oneself. We now know what rubbish it is to deny that lone parenthood should be avoided wherever possible. As for marriage, study after study has shown that from the point of view of the child it is the best and most stable basis for the family. In the 50s, everyone, including governments of all colours, knew that marriage was the foundation of social stability: and a man whose wife stayed at home to look after the children didn’t pay any tax at all until he was earning the average national wage.
That whole dispensation was blown apart by the accursed supposed “liberation” of the 60s, and by political ideologies of various kinds, not least by radical feminism. There was nothing inevitable about it: it was done by deliberate political design. And what political design can do, political design can undo. It’s more difficult – much more difficult – of course and it can’t be done overnight. David Cameron, to be fair, does seem to see some of this (IDS sees even more).
But does he have the political determination actually to do it? We shall see. I am hopeful; I always am at first. But I greatly fear that as month succeeds month, even my own tendency towards sunny optimism will begin first to flag and then to die. And this time, I don’t want to be able to say “I told you so”.