Saturday 21 November 2009

Tories to value marriage ... on forms

Almost nobody outside the political classes has yet heard of Chris Grayling, the populist, telly-themed soundbite obsessed shadow Home Secretary.

But while his colleagues attempt a liberal love-bombing strategy by posing as progressive, Grayling is already gearing up for what could prove a very successful bid to achieve Michael Howard and Ann Widdecombe levels of notoreity.

Here's his latest headline-grabbing wheeze.

Tories to demand: are you married? reports The Sunday Times.

Official forms will routinely demand to know whether a person is married under Conservative plans to promote stable families.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, claimed that, under Labour, marriage had become a “non official institution”. In an interview with The Sunday Times, he pledged that a future Tory government would make it a priority to raise the status of married life. “Marriage has almost disappeared from official forms, from official documents,” he said. “I think that needs to change.”

It is very strange that Conservatives love to lecture Labour on the limits of bureaucratic tinkering, critiquing a caricature of Fabianism as the belief that pulling government levers with micro tax and benefit changes can affect deep social and cultural changes in society.

Except on marriage, where the policy appears to consist only of eye-catching initiatives of exactly that kind, based on the idea that a tax-break will have a deep affect on couples' willingness to get hitched or not get divorced.

(Of course, being pro-marriage was also a big issue for the Thatcher government. In a decade, her policy unit came up with no substantive policy attempt beyond the rhetorical).

An idea of what a serious agenda to support the family could look like was set out earlier this year by my colleague Tim Horton in an essay for the Fabian Review special issue on the theme, which looked at how a pro-family agenda should focus on the quality of relationships, including the need to address the pressures on families today.

While Grayling bids to become a liberal bete noire, there is much expectation from his fans and supporters.

And Grayling's appointment in place of the cerebral liberal-leaning Dominic Grieve has been credibly alleged to be a condition of The Sun newspaper's support for the Conservatives by the usually well informed Conservative insider Tim Montgomerie.

Indeed, several months before The Sun switched sides, the ConservativeHome site had reported that "One of the chief obstacles to winning back The Sun was removed when David Cameron replaced Dominic Grieve as Shadow Home Secretary".

The impressively in the loop tabloid had also speculated about the change of roles on the morning it was made, ahead of the official announcement.


13eastie said...

Here's a sample of Tim Horton's pardoxical logic, if you can't be bothered to read the whole thing...

Yes, married
couples tend to be happier and less likely to separate than
cohabiting couples.

[Can't argue with that.]
But it’s also the case that happier and more
committed couples are more likely to get married in the first

[Yes, that's the general point, isn't it? Don't do it unless it's right? This is starting to sound rather like a complaint about the intrinsic happiness and commitment of married couples. Spite? Envy? Where can this be heading?]
The more you control for these underlying variables...
[Ah, I see: control to exclude the variables that you've just linked with a propensity to marry. In other words, retain only marriages that are not happy or committed for your study! Some people might call this selection bias, but hey-ho...]
...the smaller the relationship between family structure and
subsequent outcomes gets.

[No sh*t, Sherlock!]
In the case of married couples, it’s almost certainly those
high quality relationships – the ones which make it more
likely that people get married in the first place – that are then
primarily responsible for the positive outcomes for children
of married couples, not the institution of marriage itself. A
clue is provided by research which compared outcomes for
children in single parent families, on the one hand, with
those of children in ‘intact’ families experiencing high levels
of conflict, on the other; it found the children in the intact
families fared less well. It was the conflict, not the structure,
that was the key factor.

Or, to put it more briefly:

1) Happy couples get married
2) Control for happiness (in other words, find a way to control for marriage per se)
3) Conclude that marriage is not a factor in children's well-being (hardly surprising if you've already controlled for it).

Bad ideology.
Bad science.
Bad logic.
Bad argument.
Bad outcomes.

More than a tad contrived, methinks...

Letters From A Tory said...

To be fair, Grieve was out of his depth and didn't have the energy and fire to take on the Home Office.

The fact that Chris Grayling's obsession with soundbites is extremely irritating and unhelpful is another matter entirely.

Sunder Katwala said...

13eastie - we'll have to agree to disagree on whether that is a fair point to work out which way the cauastion runs.

LFAT - thanks. In general, one assumes that Grayling would welcome notoreity on the left if it plays well on the right. I would be surprised if this one did, so its interesting you think that.

He seems to me to be establishing a strong lead for "politician most likely to turn the Thick of It into political fact most often", but perhaps there are some other good contenders on both sides.

13eastie said...

Retrospective study: causation not even up for grabs.

Controlling against an acknowledged pre-cursor for the existence of the independent variable makes any 'conclusion' impossible to credit.