Whilst Clegg’s speech took the right tone, simplistic and to the point, as Darrell Goodliffe has rightly argued, there is much to question, namely what has been left out. I want to focus on our childcare policies and how they have faced the chopping board, attaining the dreaded ‘aspiration’ title. To contextualise my argument, it is important to consider the following extract from Clegg’s speech:
“And, yes, that means that some multi billion pound spending commitments we have promoted in the past – like new free childcare entitlements, a new citizen’s pension or free personal care – will no longer be firm commitments in our manifesto, but will be put on hold until they become affordable again. And some of our other pledges such as the scrapping of tuition fees will have to be phased in over a longer period of time.”
Whilst I take the view that Clegg is right to promote four key areas to focus upon during the election campaign, this does not mean that we should not promise any other policies. Free childcare should be a fundamental right, it is the route of so many inequalities in society. For example, I disagree with the view of The Speaker’s Conference that all-women shortlists “may be the only way” to achieve equal representation of women in parliament. They have given up the fight of equality before they have even began fighting for it. It is simply discrediting and discriminatory to treat women as though they need ‘special’ treatment in order to become involved in politics. They should be there on their own merit, and nor is it fair on the men potential candidates who could be a better alternative. Instead, this links to the importance of policies such as improved childcare, there needs to be structural and cultural changes. Women need to have more resources to utilise in order to dedicate themselves to careers that involve a lot of work and time, such as politics, whilst also enjoying other things in life that they may so choose, such as having children. There needs to be more consideration of how organisational structures within politics, local and national, can disadvantage women. Attitudes within local politics can put women off, as it can at a national level. Making out that women need to be treated differently to men hardly helps with this cultural change, it reinforces the view that women are different and that actually they aren’t as good as the men, and thus, they need a foot up so they can get to the same career positions. What policy commitments such as childcare do is help tackle the real structural problems for women. People can huff and puff all they want about the level of representation of women and other minority groups in politics, but they cannot just give up at the slightest sight things may not be as quick or as easy as they would like.
This brings me onto my final point. David Cameron’s annoyingly increased interference into the life’s of families who are already stigmatised enough without some politician or the state telling them they have problems. It is no lie that working class families are more likely to face problems with parenting, but again, there seems to be again a total lack of regard for the structural factors that affect the parenting of these families. This utter load of rubbish from Cameron again, contradicts his whole small state rhetoric. Cameron’s discourse on his (another) new initiative illustrates the weaknesses in his proposals:
“Of course there’s a link between material poverty and poor life chances, but the full picture is that that link also runs through the style of parenting that children in poor households receive. Because the research shows that while the style of responsible parenting I’ve spoken about today is more likely to occur in wealthier households, children in poor households who are raised with that style of parenting do just as well.”
Cameron might recognise the link but I am afraid his conception of the link is wrong. Yes, poverty does affect family style, but therefore why can’t Cameron realise that the real changes that have to be made are to the factors that result in families becoming impoverished and disadvantaged. Furthermore, the second sentence stigmatises certain families, as he uses those families that have ‘successful’ parenting to highlight how it can be done, thus blame the ones who aren’t doing it ‘correctly’. He has a total disregard for taking into account the complex array of compounding factors that influence parenting style, it is so insulting to just blame the individual and then offer them classes or whatever to improve their ‘style’. It is again an issue that the state should not be interfering in at such a personal level, by all means provide help, but there is a line to be drawn. This shows how Cameron seems to becoming obsessed with interfering with the utter most personal areas of our lives, and the public just don’t want it, as shown by a recent UK Polling Report, which found:
“40% of people think it is right for the government to actively support marriage, but 57% thought it was not the place for the government to promote one lifestyle choice over another.”
Thus, it is important for all parties to recognise more the importance of tackling structural and cultural inequalities that affect people’s lives. Free childcare relates to both all women shortlists and parenting style, as it provides extra choice for parents – and it would be a policy change that would not see the state delve too far into the personal. It is important that we respect human agency and privacy, and that we do not treat people as though they need some kind of ‘special’ help, consequently stigmatising them. Empowering people is the way to deal with inequalities, and through structural and cultural changes we can do this without inappropriate state intervention.