Magazine article The Spectator

Blair's Government Will Ultimately Fail Unless He Rescues the Family

Magazine article The Spectator

Blair's Government Will Ultimately Fail Unless He Rescues the Family

Article excerpt

The undermining of the institution of marriage and the weakening of the family system stand right at the heart of Britain's problems. These evils, and the failure of government to tackle them - its propensity, on the contrary, to aggravate them by foolish legislation and idiotic tax and welfare policies - are responsible for many of the cruellest blows, great and small, which rain on our suffering nation. Princess Diana was a victim not merely of the media but of two sick families. I do not blame Earl Spencer for the bitterness of his funeral address, for the dead girl had been the lifeconsoling elder sister of his childhood stricken by their parents' divorce, from which she too suffered. It is hard to believe that united and responsible parents would have permitted her marriage, at 19, to a man whose heart was already given. Then too, as Diana herself stressed, the fact that senior royals, such as the sovereign and the heir, have separate households, whose members engage in rival scheming and carry malicious tales to their principals, makes it difficult for these royal marriages to work well, or at all. She blamed the multiple household system both for the alienation of the Duke of Edinburgh and for the fragility of her own marriage, which otherwise might have survived a mistress or two.

The decline of the monogamous family household, and of the ramifying, extended family it makes possible, are responsible for more unhappiness than any of the developments of our odious century, total war alone excepted. It is true that some families generate unhappiness, as their wounded members believe. They are comparatively few but they produce a disproportionate amount of fuss, in novels and plays and in the columns of anti-family newspapers like the Guardian, the Independent and the Observer. Grievances against parents or siblings, or simply what happened in childhood, make victims articulate as well as sour. But just as hard cases make bad law, so unhappy families make bad sociology. The overwhelming majority do not speak about their families because they take them for granted, like good health or the blessings of peace. The most common complaint now - it grows in volume and numbers yearly - is not of oppressive families but of the agonising emotional vacuum in the lives of those who grew up without any recognisable family at all. Their envy of those who belong to close families is now, in my observation, stronger than their envy of wealth, though of course members of a functioning family are likely to be better off than those who have none.

It amazes me that governments do not put repair of the family right at the head of their preoccupations. We have achieved a lot in the last two decades. We have destroyed the evils of union power, returned most of our hopeless public sector to efficiency and profitability, reduced excessive taxation, recreated an entrepreneurial society and made our country one of the best places in the world in which to invest. We are now in the process of reforming welfare and education. But the problems which remain, and which we are not tackling at their roots, are mostly related to the decline of the family. The fundamental causes of poverty are illegitimacy and divorce. Shifting relationships outside marriage, and the break-up of marriages which have produced children, cause poverty in the present generation, and the offspring of these disasters are more likely to be under-educated and so poor, in turn. …

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