Friday, 12 December 2008

The real victims of New Labour snobbery

Tell me, was there any disquiet at all at the BBC when the chief constable covering Dewsbury condemned Karen Matthews’ neighbours, a whole class of families, because “they never go out”?

Were there any complaints, or even qualms, at this outrageous piece of New Labour snobbery? I don’t know. I hope so, but fear there wasn’t.

It’s a bit late to blog about this, but we seem to be in the grip of a moral panic led by Ed Balls, which amounts to an attack on all children and their families, and mothers in particular. In the last few days, since I thought about this rather belated post, it has been intensifying worryingly.

I’m not of course defending Karen Matthews. But pointing out that most children with young families rarely “go anywhere” is not exactly an explanation for why someone should kidnap their own child.

Worse, was there anyone pointing out just how fatuous that leaked social workers report on Karen Matthews was – the one which criticised her for a fatal “inability to successfully place the children's needs above her own”?

In practice, do you know any mothers who systematically put their children’s needs always before their own? They are ill, depressed, stressed and sleep deprived. Good mothers understand how their children depend on them to look after themselves, rather than entirely subsuming their own physical and mental needs. That is good parenting.

But no, we are in New Labour fantasy-land, where mothers have to be virginal paragons of saintliness or must risk interference from the state. But who is speaking up for parents and their children in the midst of this nonsense? Who is pointing out that this kind of moralistic disconnection from the real world is likely to damage children as much as ‘save’ them?

Before policy-makers run too far down this path, it might be worth looking at the practical implications of policies based on this kind of rhetoric:

1. Those who need public services most begin to sense that professionals are not on their side. That’s why our shiny new, well-equipped local children’s centre is almost entirely empty.

2. There will be more children removed from ordinary, loving families simply because medical professionals don’t know what’s wrong with them.

3. Because all families are suspects, child protection agencies will continue to be overwhelmed, and we’ll get another Baby P and another and another...

But I think at the heart of all this pomposity is the vilification of ordinary parents, and mothers in particular.