Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Will an outbreak of social conservatism be the next pandemic?

It looks like it's starting over at The Independent with Dominic Lawson weighing in with some insight into the Baby P story.

Seldom can so many inquests have been held over a single, tiny, corpse. Last night BBC1's Panorama carried out yet another, under the title, "Baby P – the whole truth?" The question mark conveniently allows for a further such investigation, whenever the public mood demands it.

This set in motion the other media ritual in such circumstances – an interview on Today with Lord Laming, author of two reports following the deaths of children on Haringey Social Services' at-risk register. Laming produced his now familiar litany of suggestions for social working "best practice", accompanied by the chilling observation that "the state should become a responsible and effective parent to more children".

Such "chilling observations" are now rather common place in so-called social democracies, but that isn't the point I wanted to emphasise. Lawson goes on to make a very good point regarding how we've come to rely on tackling symptoms rather than the underlying problems.

Last December the head of Ofsted, smarting from the criticism her organisation had received over its invigilation of Haringey Social Services, pointed out that over the previous 16 months 210 children had died in this country as a result of abuse, and of the 21 babies who had died, only two were known to the social services.

That on it's own tells us nothing. The idea behind the comment from the Ofsted head is to ram home the oft repeated leftist assertion that mums and dads are far more likely to kill their kids than anyone else, but Lawson pulls that myth apart

While it is true that there are cases in which a child is killed by his or her natural father, this is, in statistical terms, unusual. Baby P is a more typical case, in being murdered by someone in the home, but with whom there is no proper parental tie. It is simply a fact that the growth in "broken homes" has led to a vast increase in the number of children deemed to be "at risk" – no fewer than 1.5m now fall into this category.

Lawson goes on to wonder about a welfare system that rewards family break up and penalises real families - the traditional nuclear family - that stick together.

In this context, it is truly astounding that the Government sees nothing untoward in a benefits system which actively rewards what we might still be able to describe as "non-traditional families". I don't think that the answer to the breakdown of the nuclear family is to tilt the tax system sharply in favour of marriage – these are essentially moral rather than financial matters – but it is definitely perverse to do the opposite.

Perverse indeed - but if you aren't going to tip the tax system in favour of marriage then where is that "morality" going to come from?

Perhaps the clearest example of this perversity was the Government's decision to warn Catholic adoption agencies that they faced prosecution under discrimination laws unless they dropped their insistence that children in care should be assigned to married couples. An independent report two years ago noted that the Catholic agencies, while frequently taking on the most difficult cases, have a much more successful record than the average in avoiding "failed" placements.

So, Lawson seems to think the church has a role in this, but ......

I am not, as it happens, a Christian; but it is simply a fact that the great 19th-century campaigns against drunkenness and depravity on the streets of Britain would have been unimaginable without the involvement of the churches, notably those of an evangelical disposition. There is need of a similar re-moralisation today, although I doubt very much that it could come from our established church.

I really can't see how this can happen in a state where religion - or rather, the Christian form of religion - is quite frequently and openly pilloried by the state and where aggressive secular atheist influencers pour scorn on the concept of Christian morality, but fundamentally, I agree with Lawson.

To be honest, even though I've read the article several times now I'm still not entirely clear what it is that Lawson is suggesting we do about all this. On the one hand he seems to be saying that we need a more assertive religious influence from an established religion while admitting that it really isn't possible for the church to do this without some state recognition. It's a little confused and a little confusing.

What is refreshing is the tacit acknowledgement that social conservatism was right all along. Decades of socially liberal policy have resulted in broken and dysfunctional families and a fundamental decline in moral standards - as social conservatives such as myself always felt it would.

That this is coming from a secularist non-Christian writing in a very left wing newspaper is very encouraging.

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