Sir Paul Coleridge spoke last week about his newly established Marriage Foundation, which seeks to halt the ‘appalling and costly impact of family breakdown’.
He certainly knows how to frame a provocative soundbite:
Almost every dysfunctional child is the product of a broken family
Matthew Holehouse reports:
Sir Paul wishes to encourage people not to have children unless their relationship is stable, and if it is stable, to encourage them to get married.
“Marriage, as the best structure in which to raise children, needs to be affirmed, strengthened and supported. Recycle your rubbish by all means, but be very slow to recycle your partner,” he told The Times.
“We have to rid ourselves of this dream that we are going to find the partner who is perfect in every way: emotionally, physically, intellectually – it’s just a nonsense.
“People want to change horses mid-stream – it’s the disease of the modern age. Soon you find the new partner is as flawed as the last. It is like a hydra: you cut off one head and get rid of a boring partner but inherit 26 new problems, your new partner’s children, family and so on.”
Family breakdown is the “scourge of society”, he added. “It affects everyone, from the Royal Family downwards. In about 1950 you weren’t allowed in the royal enclosure at Ascot [if divorced]. That would now exclude half the Royal Family.”
“It is a myth that children, even older ones, don’t care. They care greatly and a break-up shocks the whole foundation of the family, it never recovers.”
“My message is mend it — don’t end it. Over 40 years of working in the family justice system, I have seen the fall-out of these broken relationships. There are an estimated 3.8 million children currently caught up in the family justice system. I personally think that’s a complete scandal.”
Leaving aside the practical question of exactly which laws and tax-incentives might support the institution of marriage, it’s remarkable that Nick Clegg can characterise marriage as simply a private commitment without any public/social implications.
In a Lib Dem disagreement with the Conservatives about tax breaks for marriage couples he said there was a limit on what the state “should seek to do in organising people’s private relationships” [my italics].
Getting married is probably the best thing that ever happened to me. But just as a liberal I think there are limits to how the state and government should try to micromanage or incentivise people’s own behaviour in their private lives [my italics].
This contrasts with David Cameron at the Conservative Party Conference last October, where at least he recognised the importance of marriage for children, and by implication for society in general – even though there are other equally important questions about how he defines marriage.
Marriage is not just a piece of paper. It pulls couples together through the ebb and flow of life.
It gives children stability. And it says powerful things about what we should value. So yes, we will recognise marriage in the tax system.
Tim Ross reports on some of the differences within the coalition.
[In a speech to the Demos think-tank] Mr Clegg will say: “We should not take a particular version of the family institution, such as the 1950s model of suit-wearing, bread-winning dad and aproned, home-making mother – and try and preserve it in aspic.
“That’s why open society liberals and big society conservatives will take a different view on a tax break for marriage.”
Mr Clegg will argue that liberal values are more important than ever as the world faces deep economic uncertainty and risks turning inwards.
“Conservatives, by definition, tend to defend the status quo, embracing change reluctantly and often after the event,” he will say. Senior Conservatives retaliated Mr Clegg yesterday. The employment minister, Chris Grayling, told Sky News: “We are two parties in the coalition. Of course there are things on which we have different views.
“We as Conservatives believe strongly in supporting marriage and the family. The Liberal Democrats take a different view. We accept that family is not always the same thing as it has been in the past. “But we have always argued that we should support the family, that we should support marriage in the tax system.
We think we need to strengthen the institution of marriage in our society.” He insisted that the “differences of emphasis” did not mean the Liberal Democrats were not “valued partners” in government.
Mr Grayling’s stance was supported by Gavin Poole, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, a think-tank founded by the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith.
Mr Poole said Mr Clegg’s argument “flies in the face of all the evidence” demonstrating how important marriage is to well-being of children.