You will have to forgive my less than enthusiastic welcome to Mr Steve Hilton’s sudden and remarkable conversion to the cause of marriage. A bit late in the day, the cynic would be justified in asserting. The damage inflicted by politicians’ casual abandonment of this vital social institution has been done. The subsequent havoc inflicted on children’s lives is sadly today’s order of the day.
My cynicism hinges on more than the question of his gesture towards closing the stable door after the horse has bolted .
Were that it, as an avid campaigner for marriage myself since 1990, I should surely be rejoicing at this return of a prodigal son.
After all his article, “Come on Dave, it’s time to stand up for marriage“, in The Daily Mail last week says all the right things.
So right they are worth repeating:
“Since the late Sixties, he opines, increasingly vocal liberal thinking has held that families come in all shapes and sizes, so the State should avoid promoting any one model as the best structure for bringing up children. Any belief in the virtue of traditional, stable family life has come to be seen not only as an outdated prejudice, but even a form of stigmatisation against single or unmarried parents.
“This approach has been reflected in measures such as the accelerating abolition of any fiscal support for married couples in the tax system to the extent that many parents can actually be better off by remaining unmarried. In contrast, our modern social security system provides perverse incentives for lone parenthood through extra benefits and allowances, as well as priority on waiting lists for social housing.
“The downgrading of marriage is also reflected in other parts of our civic life, such as the replacement of the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ with ‘partner’ on official forms, the promotion of legal rights for unmarried couples or the comparative ease of divorce, highlighting the modern belief that marriage is really nothing more than a bit of paper.”
Of course, I agree with his rendition of this not so new critique.
What troubles me that Hilton neither volunteers an explanation for his right turn to marriage, nor does he acknowledge the scale of the cultural challenge required put it right – since it means attacking much of the culture he personally represents.
Nor do I underestimate how dramatic his conversion appears to be.
This, after all, is the man who talked of the need to “replace” the traditionally minded grassroots membership of the Conservative party, one which he saw was preventing the party from embracing a more metropolitan attitude on social issues.
This is the new age guru who at David Cameron’s side from 2005 to 2012 showed no interest in marriage at all over these years, and who now shows no responsibility for, or remorse for, sustaining the anti-marriage progressive agenda that typified the Blair-Brown years and which has subsequently defined the Cameron years. Was he not there too?
By 2005 the marriage crisis was more than well documented. No decent policy adviser could have been unaware of Patricia Morgan’s 1995 seminal work Farewell to the Family, or her updated version in 2000, Marriage Lite.
If neither, by virtue of the metro-liberal circles he inhabited, had registered on his radar by 2005, surely he would have noticed Jill Kirby’s Broken Hearts published by the Centre for Policy Studies in 2002 in which she also focused on the increasing number of broken families and children born outside marriage (a number that doubled in the critical years between 1981 and 1991) the relationship between the two, and the culpability of tax and welfare policies.
You may argue that working at Saatchi’s in the metro media world he might have missed all this. OK then. But surely it beggars belief that he was unaware of the recommendations of Breakthrough Britain – the report of the Conservative Party’s radical Social Justice Policy Review of 2007 – on the question of marriage. Why did he not endorse its condemnation of the Labour government’s failure to acknowledge the advantages of marriage in the tax system? Why did he not endorse the report’s condemnation of the State’s perpetuation of family breakdown?
What do we hear from the latterday Saint Steve by way of explanation for his silence on these matters? Oh, yes, of course, that ploy of blaming something or someone else, always comes in useful:
“..The ruling elite too often accepts fashionable orthodoxy as a means to an easier life, even if that received wisdom is causing profound damage to our society.
“I saw that attitude all the time when I worked as an adviser to David Cameron in Downing Street during the first years of the Coalition. Too often, the noisy views of pressure groups and lobbyists were presented as those of the mainstream public.”
Umm – just the lobbies he was trying to appease in order to show Dave and Conservatives with their new modern face.
If Steve Hilton is anything, he is an urban liberal people-pleaser who craves attention. He was like that then and he is now. I suspect he has not changed much. What clearer demonstration could there be than than his appearance at the end of the Andrew Marr show yesterday, happily sharing the sofa with his idol – yes he made that quite clear – Harriet Harperson.
Attired in his trademark low necked and short-sleeved pyjama suit (no Steve your semi-naked body is not what the doctor ordered with my cornflakes on a Sunday morning) he could not wait to ingratiate himself.
“ .. What an honour it is to be here with Harriet who I have been a huge fan of for many years – for her insistent championing of gender equality – it’s just been an amazing thing – a thrill to be here.” he enthused.
Yet who and what I wonder does he think have done more to destroy marriage than Harriet and her anti-marriage feminist revolution? How he can advocate marriage – except as a designer accessory, or an appeasement of the Right, when his own social values and principles don’t marry up, beats me.