Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Gordon Brown at the Brighton Conference

Like Tony Blair's speech to the Rimini Meeting, I believe that Gordon Brown's Labour Party Conference speech is worthy of some careful analysis. The full text can be found here, though it is the prepared text marked with those cautious words warning journalists to "check against delivery".

Let me start with the following passage (other passages, which are open to more positive evaluation, will follow, I hope):
And for all those mums and dads who struggle to juggle work and home, I am proud to announce today that by reforming tax relief we will by the end of the next Parliament be able to give the parents of a quarter of a million two year olds free childcare for the first time.

And I do think it’s time to address a problem that for too long has gone unspoken, the number of children having children. For it cannot be right, for a girl of sixteen, to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own.

From now on all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes. These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly. That’s better for them, better for their babies and better for us all in the long run.

We won’t ever shy away from taking difficult decisions on tough social questions.

Because we have to be honest – its not just bankers and politicians that have lost the people’s trust. Even though there is so much that is amazing about Britain, if you ask your neighbours or your workmates how they feel right now in this fast changing world, they will probably talk about their sense of unease.The decent hard working majority feel the odds are stacked in favour of a minority, who will talk about their rights, but never accept their responsibilities.

In a faster changing more mobile world of communities where family breakdown is more common, where children are at risk on the internet, where elderly people are too often isolated in their communities, the new society must be explicit about the boundaries between right and wrong- and about the new responsibilities we demand of people in return for the rights they have. And I stand with the people who are sick and tired of others playing by different rules or no rules at all.

First paragraph: in the interests of fairness, should not those families where the choice is that one parent not work in order to look after the children have access to equality of funding? If citizens are being increasingly encouraged towards choice in accessing public services, why can't that choice exist in childcare, and include the option to not work so as to care?

Second paragraph: doesn't the sense of this paragraph depend on where the emphasis lies? If sixteen is the age of consent, then surely Government has no right to say that girls of sixteen should not be allowed to conceive children; but if the emphasis in the sentence is on the question of appropriate access to social housing, then it is quite different.

Third paragraph: if this works out in practice as it looks, it is un-objectionable. However, as some media coverage today labelled it - "workhouses for pregnant teenagers" - if it works out in practice, or indeed in perceptions, as just making life harder for young mothers, will this end up simply being a driver towards abortion? And, indeed, will the "responsibility" that is promoted to these young people, along with all its positive and helpful aspects, include the promotion of contraceptive use and abortion in relation to the possibility of future pregnancy? It's not in the speech, and we can rightly say that such an intention can be denied by the Prime Minister; but for practitioners on the ground in this field, promotion of contraception and abortion is part of normal practice [Denials received in the com box will be welcome, and will be posted].

Sixth paragraph: in the same paragraph there is reference to increasing family breakdown, and the need to be explicit about boundaries between right and wrong. But is there any willingness to apply judgements of right and wrong to marital structures and to divorce? Do we not shy away from difficult decisions on a tough social question if we do not see divorce as a moral issue, a question that has a right and wrong about it? [This is not to suggest that couples experiencing breakdown in the sociological sense should be forced to stay together - but it is to suggest that the subsequent choice to move on and marry another, in the kind of serial monogamy that is not unusual now, should be the subject of a moral evaluation that is reflected in law.]


la mamma said...

Hi Joe,

As ever, you use the primary sources (are you sure you're not an historian?!) and make an excellent analysis of the PM. Top marks. I read your blog a lot on google reader now and don't often have a minute to comment, so just thought I'd pop in and say I'm still reading and impressed with your posts.

See ya!

Joe said...

la mamma:

Thank you for your comment. I am happy to know that you appreciate the blog. I try to be thoughtful and analytical, rather than just controversial, so it is good to know that this effort is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Leave Gordon alone

Joe said...


However cute Gordon is .... he is a politician .... and criticism is legitimate.

I have promised to say some nice things about him soon ...