Is David Cameron mixing up cause and effect?

David CameronParents should take lessons in how to control children – PM” – runs the main headline in the Observer this morning.

Expansion of parenting classes is certainly something to be welcomed. When I was first a parent, I thought it was very strange that parents were offered classes on breathing techniques during pregnancy and pelvic floor exercises, plus inspection of changing areas and bottle procedures after birth, but not a word of guidance after that, until primary school “parent/school agreements”.

I am not comfortable with the word “control” in the Observer headline. David Cameron uses the word “discipline” in his quotes about this. This should be about supporting parents and, dare I say it, encouraging “quality time” between parents and children.

Reading the Observer article, this government initiative seems to be somewhat directed at poorer families. But middle class families have no reason to be smug about this. Often busy parental professional lives can buy toys, gadgets and nannies, but children miss time with, and love from, their parents. I once came across a situation where some working affluent parents dumped their six month old baby, who was normally looked after by a nanny while the parents worked, in a nursery (admitted one of the best and most expensive in the country) while they jetted to the Caribbean on holiday for three weeks. This just seemed to me something which no parent would do. One’s instincts would just stop one leaving one’s precious little baby alone in someone else’s hands for so long.

So I think David Cameron could afford to adopt a less patronising tone in respect to less privileged families.

My complaint with this Cameron story is perhaps one of cynicism. Why is he raising this issue at this time? It feels a bit “Back to Basics” to me. This is a classic Cameron diversion tactic – rather like the somewhat diversionary Syrian air strikes nonsense.

If we look at Cameron’s quotes he says:

Children in families that break apart are more than twice as likely to experience poverty as those whose families stay together.

I have all sorts of issues with this. It suggests this is perhaps another Cameron “bash the poor” initiative. He’s basically talking about nuclear 2.2 children families. But sometimes the greatest examples of fine parenting are in poor single parent families and the worst examples of parenting are in affluent middle class dual parent families.

I also worry whether David Cameron is mixing up cause and effect. Had it not occurred to him that experiencing poverty, in the first place, might actually be a key cause of the odd marital break-up?

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • I’m fully behind Cameron on this one.

    And if we are really serious about dealing with mental health, as I believe we are, when will we start acknowledging the link between family breakdown and mental ill-health (e.g. See

  • Strange that Cameron makes this announcement at the same time his government are continuing the closure of ‘Sure Start’ centres (which, over the years, have provided a similar support service to families and children?)

  • David Allen 10th Jan '16 - 3:40pm

    Trouble is, if it’s totally voluntary, then the only people who’ll turn up will be the ones who least need the advice. Whereas if it’s compulsory, it will cost a bomb and cause great resentment (and lose the Tories a lot of votes, so that’s an argument clinched, then!)

    Maybe the least worst way to do it is to give health visitors, GPs and (perhaps) nurseries a stock of free voluntary attendance vouchers to give out to parents they think would gain from attending?

  • Personally, I think parenting is none of the governments business and as a parent I resent it. It just sounds another way to hand money to unmonitored private outsourcing and play to the Tory gallery.

  • John.
    Show me more than vague anecdotal evidence and un backed up assertions.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Jan '16 - 9:55pm

    Is this something a Minister asked him to say?

    Please also see Vince Cable’s article on page 42 of the main news section. An Observer sub-editor has entitled it “Selling off Channel 4 would be a dogmatic act of vandalism”.
    Vince Cable said ” … I blocked asset sales that were demonstrably contrary to the public interest.”
    Maybe this issue should have its own thread.

  • I have been a school governor for 32 years and an education committee member for 24years. It is surprising (or is it?) that Cameron whose government have cut the Sure Start policy now bangs on about the needs for which it was created.
    Parenting is an amateur pursuit. Those from a loving home will have the advantage when learning it with their own kids particularly the nurture bit. Other parents will not particularly those without advice. I recall a very experienced Head of Infants in a deprived community saying “all mums want the best for their kids but they don’t know what it is”. That is why outreach as well as in-centre work was and is so important.
    It is fair to note that behaviour problems are more but not exclusively found with social disadvantage. Osborne is conscientiously increasing social disadvantage. Cameron should have a word if he really means it.

  • Glenn: So parenting is none of the Government’s business ? And whose business is the cost of all this disruptive behaviour ?

  • There is something distinctly illiberal about the notion of telling parents how to bring up their kids. On the other hand the preamble to our constitution requires that no-one shall be enslaved by ignorance. To satisfy the latter whilst avoiding the former requires a balancing of which our society no longer seems capable if the general thrust of earlier contributions is to be believed. For Cameron to suggest however that parenting classes are the answer without a detailed analysis of what is required, for whom, by whom delivered and resourced may not be more than just another cheap trick to satisfy the Tory authoritariat, but I’m prepared to suspend my judgement until more detail is forthcoming.

    What I find being overlooked is any discussion of how it has come to this. Cameron’s proposal seems to be addressing the symptoms but without a deeper understanding of what is happening such an approach may lead to unintended consequences.

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