Family matters

Labour is divided over how to address family issues - Ed Miliband needs to work out his strategy, fa

Senior parliamentary and shadow cabinet figures say that Labour is increasingly split on its approach to the family. As the party prepares its response to the UK Riots Inquiry Panel, this conflict has been thrown into stark relief. It's a case of serious family politics, and it cuts to the heart of what Labour is about.

Leading the old guard are the likes of Yvette Cooper who - perhaps understandably given her position as shadow home secretary - want Labour's response to the riots to lead on police cuts. Harriet Harman is also in this camp, although she is keen to broaden the narrative out to youth unemployment and cuts to youth services.

Shadow cabinet member Diane Abbott didn't want to comment on the splits, but she said that when it came to family life, "the majority of the shadow cabinet would rather park this issue."

But she does not seem convinced that this is the right approach:

“Some of my colleagues are skeptical of Ian Duncan Smith's family narrative and I share that up to a point. I'm a single mum... and don't want to feel second class because of it... but we shouldn't abandon talking about the family to the right and extremist religious nut jobs."

Off the record, another parliamentary source went even further:

"We've got to do police but family is equally relevant, and if we don't tackle that we will be out of touch. This is not just a post riots issue, it goes much deeper."

We need to wait for the evidence before we can make a judgement on any relationship between riots and family life. But the need for a new and deeper narrative about families and relationships is something I wholeheartedly believe in. Because as a councillor, I have to deal with cases of family break down every day, but I don't think Labour is getting it.

This week a fifteen-year-old told me that the first interaction he ever had with his dad was when he found him on Facebook.

The week before, a young guy nearly got glassed in a pub fight. His dad works as a local police officer, but said he wouldn't come down because he "wasn't on duty" that night.

What does Labour have to say about these cases?

At the moment the new Top Boy series resonates more with people than their political leaders.

These ideas are simmering in other parts of the party. Next week David Lammy MP is set to bring out his new book Out of the Ashes. It's strictly embargoed, but we can expect a post-liberal narrative that deals with fatherhood and masculinity as much as resources and benefits. Lammy told me:

"Social liberalism has delivered huge gains for ethnic minorities and women, but it can't answer everything. We may well need a more small c conservative response to bring the country together as more than individuals."

Blue Labour sympathisers like Jon Cruddas MP have been pushing the party in this direction for a long time, as reiterated in his inaugural Attlee lecture a few weeks ago. With a new leader and an election three years away, there is growing pressure for Labour to change.

I understand the anxieties about speaking out. There is a worry that defending the family really means slating single parent homes. There is a concern that we'll have to make value judgements about marriage or the role of women, or that we'll offend liberal ideas about the role of the state. But there must be a better way of reframing this debate. If you want to hear about the family, why should you have to go to the Tories?

Yes Labour did some great things for families in material terms. Huge amounts. But we didn't make the emotional link between polices and what mattered to people. We didn't speak to people's experience or values; we managed them in silence. It's not enough to throw in the occasional dry reference to responsibility - we need to talk about honour, love, loyalty, fear and hate.

Ed Miliband gets this argument in intellectual terms. But it's still unclear how far he'll go to change the party line. We urgently need to find a way of doing that, because these are the realities people are living with. Fatherhood. Family. They matter to people. And after all the cuts, that guy's dad is still working as a police officer, and his son hasn't stopped fighting.

Rowenna Davis is the author of Tangled Up In Blue

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

Getty
Show Hide image

Chuka Umunna: Why tolerance is not enough

Against the Trumpification of politics.

It’s still spring, yet 2016 already stands out as one of the ugliest years in modern British political history. It was fantastic to see Londoners choosing hope over fear in May, electing Sadiq Khan as our first Muslim mayor. But David Cameron, having shamelessly endorsed Zac Goldsmith’s dog-whistle campaign tactics, owes those young Muslims who have been put off politics by the slurs hurled at Khan an explanation. How does racial profiling and sectarian scaremongering fit into his One Nation vision for Britain?

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, one of the best bets to succeed Cameron as our next prime minister, embarrassed Britain on the world stage with a racially charged allusion to Barack Obama’s Kenyan heritage. And my own party has been grappling with a swath of deeply disturbing revelations regarding the attitudes held by some on the left towards Israel and Jewish people. Sowing discord by stigmatising or scapegoating a single faith group or community is profoundly at odds with the British tradition of “tolerance”, but we can’t ignore that this year’s events are part of a rising trend of friction and factionalism.

Last year’s general election should have been a wake-up call. The political and cultural divides between people living in the north and south and urban and rural areas – as well as between working-class and metropolitan sensibilities – appear starker than ever. In May’s devolved elections, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish politics became yet more distinct – giving the impression of a kingdom coming apart at the seams. All the while, more and more voices in our national politics seek to pin the blame for the challenges facing our country on a single section of society, whether immigrants, Muslims or another group.

This trend stretches beyond our borders. From Ukip, the French Front National and Austria’s Freedom Party to Podemos in Spain and Italy’s Five Star Movement, new populist parties of the right and left are on the rise across Europe. In the United States, Bernie Sanders is tapping into the energy of Occupy Wall Street, while Donald Trump has emerged as the heir to the Tea Party: a poster boy for division and recrimination.

Trump’s rise should be a warning for us Brits. The New York Times commentator David Brooks has described his success as less indicative of the emergence of a new school of thought, or movement, and more of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Trump’s campaign has tapped into a complex cocktail of grievances, from the loss of manufacturing jobs in a globalised economy to rising inequality and raw anger felt by many white working-class Americans at demographic and cultural changes.

In the run-up to last year’s general election, as I travelled around the country, I was confronted time and time again with the reality that in the UK – just like in the US – people are afraid and angry because the world is changing in ways they fear are beyond their control. Where once they had believed that, if they worked hard, they would get ahead, too many Britons now feel that the system is rigged in favour of those born into opportunity and that those in power have abandoned them to a broken future. What it means to be British seems to have shifted around them, triggering a crisis of solidarity.

We are at a crossroads and may face nothing less than the Trumpification of British politics. In an uncertain and changing world, it is all too easy to imagine that our problems are caused by those who are different from us.

If we wish to follow the fine example set by Londoners on 5 May and choose unity and empathy over division and blame, we must accept that simply “tolerating” one another will no longer do. There is an accusation built into the very word: what you are doing is “other” or “wrong”. As Britain has become more diverse, we have come to know each other less. This makes it harder to understand how people from different walks of life feel about the big issues.

I am a Labour member because I believe, as it says on our membership cards, that, by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more together than we do alone. In order to develop the bonds of trust required for this to become a reality, and for our communities to flourish and our democracy to deliver for everyone, we must build a society in which people from all backgrounds actually get to know one another and lead interconnected lives. In this sense, “One Nation” – the land over which all parties seek purchase – should become more than a platitude. It should become a way of life.

Chuka Umunna is Labour MP for Streatham.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad