When Harold Macmillan was asked what he feared most, he is supposed to have said: “events, dear boy, events.” The phrase has since become something of a cliché, though a useful one – serving as shorthand for the disruptability of the best-laid political plans.
However, in this Twitterised era of instant, hyperbolic reaction, Macmillan’s words need an update – because “non-events, dear boy” are now also capable of hijacking the news agenda.
In a post for the Spectator, Ed West makes the point that one such non-event – the ridiculous row over the Ralph Miliband article in the Daily Mail – obliterated discussion of a much more important issue:
“What with the flap about Ed Miliband’s dad, the legion of the outraged have forgotten what they were planning to get angry about [last] week – the marriage tax break, which is social engineering and a blatant Tory attempt to punish single mothers in favour of the patriarchy.”
You remember the marriage tax break don’t you? Announced on the eve of last week’s Conservative Party conference, all the signs were that lefties, liberals and lefty liberals were going to get very cross indeed – until that is they were distracted by the shocking news that the Mail doesn’t think much of Marxists.
But assuming that the left returns to their original getting-angry plans at some convenient juncture, it might be worth examining the reasons for their furious opposition to the merest hint of a pro-marriage policy.
For a start, there’s the feminist argument, which Ed West finds less than convincing:
“As a paid-up member of the patriarchy it always sounds more fun coming from people complaining about it than it actually is. Marriage, for men, is a form of domestication and many would rather spend their 30s and 40s playing computer games, if possible with a live-in girlfriend to whom they have made no commitments.”
He’s got even less time for the social-engineering argument:
“One of the strangest accusations made against this change is that it is ‘social engineering’; to the extent that everything the government does is social engineering, it is, but in this case it’s to belatedly counter previous acts of social engineering. The most effective was the 1977 Homeless Persons Act, which prioritised lone parents in social housing, after which the number of children born outside marriage rocketed and a social gulf emerged…
“Opponents of marriage incentives are suffering from a pathological individualism that treats people as atomised beings; we are social creatures, and the likelihood of our getting married, divorced, taking drugs or getting fat is heavily influenced by peers.”
It might seem a bit strange to accuse leftwingers of “pathological individualism” – yet we shouldn’t forget that the collectivism of the left is all about the state. As such it is threatened by the other kind of collectivism, which is all about the social bonds created through family, community and nation – each of which reduce our dependency on the state and therefore the power of those who can only achieve their aims through the state.
Ed West also tells opponents of pro-marriage policies to ‘check their privilege’:
“Marriage-promotion is aimed not at protecting middle class children whose lack of a father at home is countered by high parental education, intelligence, cultural capital and alternative male role models, but those in areas where they and their peers lack these things, because when fatherlessness becomes widespread the impact is multiplied…
“Marriage allowances, in their tiny, tiny way, rebalance the game towards the good guys.”
Of course, the trouble with rewarding people for doing the right thing is that it implies that they are also capable of doing the wrong thing. And once we start accepting the reality of right and wrong at the level of the individual, where does that leave us?