January 22, 2011


The young parents who run Britain (Bagehot, 1/21/11, The Economist)

Part of the explanation is the youth of Britain’s rulers: Mr Cameron was the youngest prime minister to take office in nearly two centuries; the main party leaders are in their early 40s. The professional middle classes as a whole are having children later. The child-bearing trend began in 2000, when Tony Blair sired the first baby born to a serving prime minister in more than 150 years. But he also had teenage children, so had been dunked in the stormier waters of adolescence. A turning point came with Gordon Brown’s coronation as Labour leader in 2007. Though in his 50s, Mr Brown had two very young sons (his first child died shortly after her birth in 2001). Suddenly all three party leaders were new parents. What is more, the younger men in Mr Brown’s cabinet were keen to be active fathers, adds a figure close to Mr Brown and Mr Miliband. It was “a massive cultural change compared to ten years before”.

A centrist Conservative MP makes a matching observation about the youthful circle around Mr Cameron. The Tory party of ten years ago was slow to grasp the importance of social policies. For today’s leadership, children are the “ultimate nudge”, he says, a reference to the Cameron camp’s zeal for “nudging” people into changing behaviour. At its simplest, parenthood exposes even the affluent middle classes to public services, from hospitals to day-care centres or libraries. Despite (mostly) shielding their children from press attention, all three current party leaders claim inside knowledge of the National Health Service and the strains of balancing work and family life.

Launching a vast reform of the NHS on January 17th, Mr Cameron—as often before—cited his biography as proof of his good faith, praising the doctors who cared for his severely disabled eldest son (who died aged six in 2009), the maternity nurses who recently helped deliver his baby daughter and the teachers “currently inspiring” his two other children at primary school. On the same day, Mr Clegg vowed to help fathers be more “hands-on” with their children, whether by taking more parental leave or seeking flexible working hours. On January 15th Mr Miliband apologised for the previous Labour government’s embrace of labour laws that had squeezed “time with our families”.

With close advisers, the Labour leader has pondered the politics of parenthood: does it make people more conservative, by which he means competitive and sharp-elbowed? Or perhaps (Mr Miliband hopes) parenthood induces empathy and trust, as even flinty individualists find themselves grateful to nannies, doctors or the BBC, with its wholesome children’s programmes.

...is make them unEuropean.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 22, 2011 9:49 AM
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