Conservative Party Conference Manchester Great Britain  5th October 2015Family matters – not least to those Conservatives who packed out the ConHome marquee for a discussion of what chairman Paul Goodman described as “one of the three builders of social opportunity,” along with schools and work.

The official title of the discussion was “Family policy: a moralising trap, or a matter of social justice?” But there was no real contest over the answer. All of the panellists came down on the side of social justice.

Fiona Bruce MP was first up. Her main point was that family relationships don’t just happen as a matter of course. They need to be built and maintained. But where do we gain the skills for this task? “We think nothing of investing in skills when it comes to the workplace. Why isn’t it the same for the thing that matters to us most, our relationships?”

“It’s nice to be home,” said Tim Montgomerie, the former editor of ConservativeHome, as he began his own remarks. And homes formed a large part of his argument. The biggest family policy that the Conservatives can embrace, he said, is housebuilding. Yet he rued the Party’s general bias against this. “It’s condemning the country to inequality.”

Samantha Callan also spoke of infrastructure, as she presented family policy in a way that might appeal to even the most hard-headed, unmovable Conservatives: “A strong economy cannot ignore the impact of broken families and dysfunctional relationships.” She was keen to emphasise that support should be given not just to families of all sorts, whether they contain babies or teenagers or neither.

The final panellist, Priti Patel MP, offered a view from within Government. Her opening pitch was stark: “We have the fourth worst record of family stability in the work.” But she was more sanguine about what’s being done to improve this dismal situation. Programmes were rattled off one after the other, many of them with names such as “Early Years” and “Life Chances”.

Montgomerie took issue with Patel in the Q&A section, over the Government’s cuts to tax credits – which just goes to prove a point. Even this Conservative family needs to talk through its problems to make things work.