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Laurie Penny: As they welcome their new daughter, the Camerons should think of the children

The Camerons might consider how coalition cuts will affect the babies born in Britain today

Along with 2,000 other women in Britain and approximately 450,000 women across the world, Samantha Cameron gave birth to a child today. The baby is a girl -- and she is lucky. Her parents are lavishly well-off members of the political ruling class in one of the richest nations in the world, with a combined yearly salary that puts them well into the top 1 per cent of earners. Mum and Dad own a property empire worth millions, and hold the keys to No 10.

Little Miss Cameron will spend her earliest years in the media spotlight, but she can at least count on an excellent education at a top state primary school, such as St Mary Abbots in Kensington, which her sister Nancy currently attends, alongside many privileged sons and daughters of the financial and political elite. She will have every possible attention paid to her developmental, emotional and physical needs; she will have plenty of good food, presents, holidays in the sun and lots of love and care from her parents and an army of support staff.

She will have no problem paying for university, even though, thanks to her father's government, the costs of attending are likely to be significantly higher by the time she enters. She will easily be able to finance herself through internships and work placements to buy her entry into an elite job. She will never know hunger, or hopelessness, or financial uncertainty. For the newest addition to the Cameron clan, life will be easy and comfortable. For most of the other babies born today, however, the outlook is less rosy.

On a day when his new government's approval ratings are lower than at any point since the general election, Cameron's new bundle of electoral joy may well serve to remind dillusioned Tory defectors that the Conservatives really are the party of "the family" -- especially the heterosexual, heteronormative, married, double-earning, higher-income, upper-middle-class family. Let's not forget, however, that on the day that David and Samantha Cameron welcomed their fourth child, 700 babies were born into poverty in Britain. And they are in for a tough ride.

The austerity cuts imposed by Cameron's coalition government will hit these newborns' families hard, meaning that many of them will enjoy a much lower standard of living than they could have expected under Labour. Their parents may not be able to afford to feed them a healthy, balanced diet or to give them birthday and Christmas presents. They will attend whichever local school can afford to take them, including some 200 state schools whose promised funding for badly needed building restoration has just been withdrawn by the coalition. After the signalled cuts to housing benefit come into force, many of them will grow up in cramped, unhealthy, substandard accommodation far from local amenities.

The babies born to poor families today will be less likely to achieve their potential at school, less likely to be able to afford to attend university or further education and more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and panic disorder than those born to wealthy families. Before 24 August 2012, these poorer babies will already be significantly more likely to exhibit lower levels of attainment and well-being than children from better-off families; by 2016, less able children from families such as the Camerons will have overtaken more able children from lower-income families.

In addition, the children who were born today in inner Manchester are already likely to die six years earlier than babies born to families in the Camerons' Notting Hill quarter, in London. Child poverty and inequality were not eradicated under Labour, but the austerity cuts imposed by David Cameron's government could spell disaster for the hundreds of children born today into less fortunate households -- particularly those born to single parents, over whom the axe of economic judgement is casting a long shadow.

David Cameron and his family will be celebrating the birth of their daughter today, and rightly so. If he is serious about building a society in which every child can thrive, however, the Prime Minister may want to remember those 700 babies being born into poverty in Britain in the course of the day, and ask himself how his policymaking will affect their future. Cameron the family man has a duty to protect every child in Britain, not just those who, like his new baby girl, are fortunate enough to be born to wealthy couples.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman

The Conservative policy board chair on the meaning of Brexit, state intervention and whether "Mayism" exists.

Theresa May’s three months as Prime Minister have been marked by ruthless changes of both personnel and policy, from grammar schools to fiscal targets. The man tasked with overseeing the latter is George Freeman, a newly bearded 49-year-old who jokingly describes himself as “a designated thinker”.

“It’s a huge privilege,” Freeman told me when we met recently in Westminster. “As [May] has indicated, she’s determined to open up the policymaking process to good ideas from a much wider pool.”

After entering parliament as the MP for Mid Norfolk in 2010, Freeman distinguished himself as one of the most intellectually energetic Tory MPs. He founded the 2020 group of Conservative modernisers and became the first ever life sciences minister in 2014. Before this, he had worked for 15 years as a biotech entrepreneur.

Politics is in his blood. The Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was his great-great-great-uncle and Mabel Philipson, the first female Conservative MP, his great-aunt. Yet Freeman attributes his reformist zeal to the belief that “with privilege comes responsibility”. He boarded at Radley College after his parents, both alcoholics, divorced and has spoken of his “emotionally damaged” childhood.

It is unsurprising that May, confronted by the greatest policy challenge since 1945 – EU withdrawal – has called on his services. The chair of the Prime Minister’s policy board, to give Freeman his official title, was a passionate Remainer but told me “we are now all Brexiteers”. The “Brexit roar”, he explained, was “a mixture of very deeply felt concerns and complaints about globalisation, powerlessness and the growing gap between London and [other] places . . .

“There’s an understanding that if we simply delivered Brexit, and didn’t tackle the rest, we would only have dealt with some of the problem.”

His ambition was “to do for our generation what Disraeli did in the 19th century, in understanding that the extraordinarily challenging pace of franchise extension was also a huge opportunity to harness and fashion a New Model Conservative Party”.

Besides abandoning the surplus target (“to boost growth and investment in infrastructure”), Freeman cited welfare policy as a point of departure. The government would “better differentiate” between changes in the welfare budget and systemic reform – a division that May believes was eroded by George Osborne.

The Prime Minister underlined her commitment to industrial strategy by naming a new department after it. But what does it mean? “I think there is a recognition that we are embracing something unrecognisable from the failed ‘beer and sandwiches’ interventionism of the Sixties and Seventies,” Freeman said. “Twenty-first-century Conservative industrial strategy is about backing our science, innovation and knowledge economy, and other sectors where we have serious global leadership.” He spoke of “stepping in where only the state can”, citing the publicly funded Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility, which he recently visited with the astronaut Tim Peake. The government must be not merely “pro-enterprise”, but “more enterprising”.

May has endured her heaviest dissent over education, and Freeman was notably lukewarm about the idea of new grammar schools. “As well as her position” on the latter, he emphasised, “the Prime Minister set out a much broader vision”. Asked whether he understood MPs’ objections to academic selection, he said “there will be all the usual consultation and discussions through parliament about specific measures”.

The Prime Minister has entered office with greater ideological definition to her thinking than David Cameron, who struggled to reconcile his early vision with austerity. Can we speak of “Mayism”? “I’m not sure the ‘ism’ is helpful or appropriate at this stage. The Prime Minister is very strongly driven by her conservative values, and converting those values into effective policies to tackle the challenges we face. I think we have to wait for the judgement of history to define the ism.”

Freeman is close to “DC” (as he calls Cameron) and praised his premiership. “I was very sorry to see him go. But in the end, given the way the referendum turned out, it was inevitable. I thought he handled that whole last week in the most exemplary way: typical of the man. In time, I think he will come to be recognised as a transformational leader who brought the Conservative Party to terms with modern Britain.”

He rejected the former education secretary Nicky Morgan’s suggestion that May would struggle to “reach into” the marginal seats that the Tories won under Cameron. “Theresa May is appealing widely across whole swaths of the country as a One-Nation leader,” he declared.

With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, Freeman said, “the centre ground of British politics, once dominated by Blair and New Labour, has been vacated . . . That is a huge opportunity for a One-Nation Conservative Party to demonstrate our relevance beyond our core vote to those around the country who have clearly felt so marginalised.”

Corbyn’s triumph “illustrates the extraordinary challenge for mainstream political parties in this age of asymmetric, post-Brexit politics . . . We now have to use the opportunity of incumbency in government to tackle the root causes of the insurgency that has taken out the Labour Party.”

Freeman acknowledged the risk that Labour’s divisions would produce an internal Tory opposition.

“It also creates a question for the Conservative Party. Will we turn in on ourselves and generate our own arguments, or unite and reach out into the space that Corbyn has vacated?” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories