If and when someone with nothing better to do compiles the lexicon of the most (over) used phrases of the New Labour era, ‘hard-working families’ will feature pretty prominently. This symbolises more than a lack of imagination on the part of government speech writers; it is evidence of a significant political weakness that runs right across the left as a whole.
For the left finds it impossible to talk about ‘the family’. Children are fine, as are families plural, but not the singular family unit. In many ways this is understandable: the family is so steeped in the notion of a married husband and wife with 2.4 children that the left does not want to stigmatise or exclude the many people who, through choice or circumstance, do not fit into this fading traditional ideal. But the upshot of this is that the politically territory has been almost completely ceded to the right, who have no such quibbles trumpeting the primacy of the married nuclear family.
The problem, though, is that the concept of ‘the family’ holds a totemic power, which ‘hard working families’ doesn’t. It has an emotional resonance about love and nurture – as Tim Horton says in his essay in the spring edition of the Fabian Review – that the left’s position misses out on, and to its abiding cost.
The new Fabian Review, published today, tries to provide a way out of this. We need a new political narrative that is able to talk about ‘the family’ without having to use inverted commas; in a way that is sensitive to our diversity without leading to charges of being anti-family. So alongside Tim Horton explaining what this new message should look like, we have: Kitty Ussher and Ed Straw on the need for a more nuanced position on marriage; Mary Riddell interviewing Tory family policy guru Iain Duncan Smith; Barry Sheerman on schools; and Denis MacShane of the role of the Royal Family in all this...and much more besides.
Read all about it.