David Cameron's "Family Test" is a ridiculous idea. Photo: Getty
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Imagining the “family test” in action since the coalition came in

How David Cameron's "family test" would have worked if it had been brought in from 2010.

David Cameron – in a serious policy announcement the weight of which lies somewhere between forcing the Queen to regale her subjects with a discussion about plastic bags and the opposition’s “owls for everyone” coup – has told his eagerly-listening nation of hardworking people that, “every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family”.

He’s set up a formalised “family test” for government departments to follow as of October to assess every single piece of policy they are creating for its “family-friendly” credentials.

Aside from this being yet another bureaucratic hurdle for harder-pressed Whitehall officials, a vague and hollow measure brought in nine months before an election by a PM whose party needs to boost its support from women, and glaringly ironic considering the coalition’s attitude to families played out by the “bedroom tax”, child benefit cuts, immigration crackdowns and backdoor marketisation of higher education, the prospect of shoe-horning every policy into a “family test” is quite funny.

If Cameron had brought in this test when he became Prime Minister in 2010, here’s how some of the coalition’s most prominent plans would have fared:

 

2011: Defra announces Badger Cull

Family-friendly credentials:

  • Terror at badger carcasses littering the countryside may do much to bring Britain’s tragically disintegrating “problem” families closer together, united in horror.
     
  • Families will be so stricken with disgust they will stand stock-still in forests, fixated by the badgers, giving them a chance to enjoy the outdoors instead of staying in watching television.
     

Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • The idea of exterminating cuddly badgers could traumatise children, which means we may have to budget more for family counselling services.

 

Family test: FAIL

 

2012: Pasty Tax mooted in Budget (pre-U-turn)

Family-friendly credentials:

  • Children wouldn’t eat as many pasties, so they’d be thinner, meaning parents could fit more children into each bedroom, which would lead to more unused rooms in houses and us being able to raise more money from the Bedroom Tax  Spare-Room Subsidy.
     
  • Married couples might eschew Greggs for more sophisticated eateries on their date nights, therefore reducing the divorce rate.
     

Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • Arguments among family members about what constitutes hot takeaway food (if it is bought from the premises cool and later heated, does that count? What about if it is heated up there?) could lead to the collapse of the family unit.


Family test: PASS

 

2012: Cutting the top rate of tax

Family-friendly credentials:

  • Children seeing the top tax rate reduced from 50p to 45p may be willing to take a 5p cut in their 50p weekly pocket money, therefore teaching them thrift and meaning they have the ability to buy fewer penny sweets, which is a public health bonus.
     
  • The Labour party’s inevitable cries of “tax-cut for millionaires” will give rowing families a common enemy (Labour’s sloganeers, not the rich) to rally against, therefore introducing solidarity to the family unit.


Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • As George Osborne and his coalition colleagues will have to spend the next three years defending this move, they will have less time to say the phrase “hardworking families”, which could lead to families working less hard.
     
  • Millionaires throughout the country being better-off might mean they'll run rogue, buy secret shag-pads overseas and be unfaithful to their partners, leading to a break-down in the sanctity of marriage.
     

Family test: FAIL

 

2013: HS2 government report

Family-friendly credentials:

  • A new famous British train in our midst would eclipse the sexist cult of Thomas the Tank Engine, therefore teaching young girls and boys the importance of gender equality.
     
  • The Phase 1 route from London to Birmingham would mean families from the capital can reach Bourneville quicker for days out at Cadbury World. This would bring joy, laughter and non-sedentary activity to the family unit.
     

Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • More families consuming chocolate in Cadbury World would be a public health risk.


Family test: FAIL

 

2013: Royal charter on press regulation

Family-friendly credentials:

  • If the Leveson-recommended press regulator comes in, the only thing left to read in the papers would be the Funday Times, which would be fantastic for children’s cognitive skills and creative faculties.
     

Family test: PASS

 

2014: Bringing in a “Family Test” for all policy

Family-friendly credentials:

  • It will reassure families across Britain that, even though we’ve pretty much finished doing legislation this parliament, we have begun thinking about their best interests in time for the election campaign.
     

Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • It would lead to lists like this.


Family test: FAIL

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.