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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As long as Jeremy Corbyn's Labour opponents are divided, he will rule

The leader's foes have yet to agree on when and how a challenge should take place.

Labour MPs began plotting to remove Jeremy Corbyn as leader before he even held the position. They have not stopped since. From the outset, most regarded him as electorally and morally defective. Nothing has caused them to relinquish this view.

A week before the first major elections of this parliament, Labour found itself conducting a debate normally confined to far-right internet forums: was Hitler a Zionist? For some MPs, the distress lay in how unsurprised they were by all this. Since Corbyn’s election last September, the party has become a mainstream venue for hitherto fringe discussions.

Many MPs believe that Labour will be incapable of rebuilding its standing among the Jewish community as long as Corbyn remains leader. In the 1930s, Jewish support for the party was as high as 80 per cent. “They handed you your . . . membership just after your circumcision,” quipped the father in the 1976 television play Bar Mitzvah Boy. By the time of the last general election, a poll found that support had fallen to a mere 22 per cent. It now stands at just 8.5 per cent.

Corbyn’s critics cite his typical rejection of anti-Semitism and "all forms of racism" (as if unable to condemn the former in isolation), his defence of a tweet sent by his brother, Piers (“Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”), and his description of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”. The Lab­our leader dismissed the latter remark as a diplomatic nicety but such courtesy was not displayed when he addressed Labour Friends of Israel and failed to mention the country’s name. When challenged on his record of combating anti-Semitism, Corbyn frequently invokes his parents’ presence at the Battle of Cable Street, a reference that does not provide the reassurance intended. The Jewish community does not doubt that Labour has stood with it in the past. It questions whether it is prepared to stand with it in the present.

MPs say that Labour’s inept response to anti-Semitism has strengthened the moral case for challenging Corbyn. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of how the fear of “enormous reputational damage” had pushed him to the brink of resignation. As the New Statesman went to press, Corbyn’s first electoral test was looming. Every forecast showed the party on course to become the first opposition to lose council seats in a non-general-election year since 1985. Yet Corbyn appeared to insist on 3 May that this would not happen, gifting his opponents a benchmark by which to judge him.

Sadiq Khan was projected to become the party’s first successful London mayoral candidate since 2004. But having distanced himself from Corbyn throughout the race, he intends to deny him any credit if he wins. Regardless of the results on 5 May, there will be no challenge to the Labour leader before the EU referendum on 23 June. Many of the party’s most Corbyn-phobic MPs are also among its most Europhile. No cause, they stress, should distract from the defence of the UK’s 43-year EU membership.

Whether Corbyn should be challenged in the four weeks between the referendum and the summer recess is a matter of dispute among even his most committed opponents. Some contend that MPs have nothing to lose from trying and should be prepared to “grind him down” through multiple attempts, if necessary. Others fear that he would be empowered by winning a larger mandate than he did last September and argue that he must be given “longer to fail”. Still more hope that Corbyn will instigate a midterm handover to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, his closest ally, whom they regard as a beatable opponent.

Those who are familiar with members’ thinking describe many as “anxious” and in need of “reassurance” but determined that Corbyn receives adequate time to “set out his stall”. One shadow cabinet minister spoke of being “caught between Scylla and Charybdis” – that is, “a Labour Party membership which is ardently Corbynista and a British electorate which is ardently anti-Corbynista”. In their most pessimistic moments, some MPs gloomily wonder which group will deselect them first. The possibility that a new Conservative leader could trigger an early general election is cited by some as cause for haste and by others as the only means by which Corbynism can be definitively discredited.

The enduring debate over whether the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged (the party’s rules are ambiguous) is dismissed by most as irrelevant. Shadow cabinet members believe that Corbyn would achieve the requisite nominations. Momentum, the Labour leader’s praetorian guard, has privately instructed its members to be prepared to lobby MPs for this purpose.

There is no agreement on who should face Corbyn if his removal is attempted. The veteran MP Margaret Hodge has been touted as a “stalking horse” to lead the charge before making way for a figure such as the former paratrooper Dan Jarvis or the shadow business secretary, Angela Eagle. But in the view of a large number of shadow cabinet members, no challenge will materialise. They cite the high bar for putative leaders – the endorsement of 20 per cent of Labour MPs and MEPs – and the likelihood of failure. Many have long regarded mass front-bench resignations and trade union support as ­essential preconditions for a successful challenge, conditions they believe will not be met less than a year after Corbyn’s victory.

When Tony Blair resigned as Labour leader in 2007, he had already agreed not to fight the next general election and faced a pre-eminent rival in Gordon Brown. Neither situation exists today. The last Labour leader to be constitutionally deposed was J R Clynes in 1922 – when MPs, not members, were sovereign. Politics past and present militate against Corbyn’s opponents. There is but one man who can remove the leader: himself.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred