Well, we’re nearly there. It’s election time this Thursday and we’re told how crucial this one might be. Sadly, we are not blessed with strong options.
The other day, I read an article written by my late uncle, John Harriott, which began, ‘At home, when members of the Government appear on television, even our potplants wilt.’ Written back in 1985, it echoes how I now feel, confronted as we are by this current crop.
As a child, I remember Christmases at Uncle John’s with such fond memories. Our family was never happier than when staying with him and Aunty Shirley, and I feel very fortunate for that.
Happy families. A pretty important part of our society you would think. But have you heard any reference to them during this election campaign?
No, me neither.
Lots of other things to fix education of course. 20,000 teachers, a National Education Service, more powers to Ofsted, more money (yes, pull the other one), capping class sizes to 30 etc etc. The list goes on. A lot of hot air, white noise.
But nothing much on the family. Yet this is the biggest influence on a child’s education, values, formation. Children spend only one-fifth of their week at school, remember. This family, whether small and traditional, or wide and extended, is bringing up the next generation. It assists in ensuring our children’s health, happiness and hope.
And yet where is it mentioned in party manifestos? And if I’m a big supporter of the family, who do I vote for?
The Conservatives? Well, I know it’s a cliché to go on about austerity, but it’s true. Their cold-hearted cuts over many years (the Sure Start closures were disgraceful) have worked against families. Shame on you. So I cannot vote for you.
Liberal Democrats? The problem I have here is this moral relativism, this ideological focus on personal freedom and individualism. I just don’t think they do enough to champion the family. So no vote for you, I’m afraid.
Labour? Well, here I agree with some of the policies. But there is a tribalism and nastiness in the hard-left which reeks of division and hatred. Not a family-friendly party in my mind. So I can’t vote for them either.
The role of a parent (and the wider family network) is of such immense value to our society that I am nonplussed to hear it mentioned so sparsely by politicians. For those of us working in schools, it is strong, loving parenting that allows teachers to teach, and that allows school leaders to work with their staff on delivering a rich curriculum. Instead, teachers up and down the country will say how they are spending immense amounts of their time dealing with problems that emanate from outside of school.
Some schools, particularly academies, have initiated ‘zero-tolerance’ policies which make it very clear to parents – you either play by our rules or you are out. It’s ruthless, but at least everyone knows where they stand. (Interestingly, these schools tend to be favoured by politicians!) But I get the rationale behind the policies; a school cannot thrive if is constantly being asked to be a branch of social services.
To digress for a moment, these policies do then make it very difficult for the schools down the road. Children have to be educated somewhere. I much prefer a neighbourhood-wide solution where all local schools work together to try and deal with problems that have their root in the home.
But there I go again, pitching schools as the agent of change, the replacement family. We shouldn’t be having to do this, surely? But if we don’t, who will?
In the Spectator back in September, Paul Embery wistfully remembered a time of old Labour, a time perhaps when Labour stood up for traditional family values. He spoke of ‘Labour’s early traditions, mutuals, trade unions and the concepts of vocation and reciprocity’ and lamented its transformation into a ‘metropolitan middle-class party which relentlessly pushes a liberal, cosmopolitan agenda’. I tend to agree.
The family unit, and the wider family that a neighbourhood can imitate, is fundamental in helping children grow into happy, healthy and secure adults. The evidence from many headteachers is that this is not happening at the moment. Something is very wrong.
Admittedly, I accept that there are multiple other factors at play, technology being a major one, but the point remains that the family is crucial to a child’s life chances. A child’s parents, and/or their wider family, really do make a difference.
Forget Brexit. For me, this is the defining issue of our age.
And so, even though his name does not appear, even though he’s not standing, even though he’s ‘six feet under’, when I raise my pen to vote on Thursday, I might just vote for my Uncle John and thank God for family.
Because in the years ahead, we’re aren’t half going to need them.