Cameron’s Balance Goes AWOL

There is a lot on my list to blog about this week and I was just about to go to bed and leave it for tomorrow. But then I happened upon this rather unpleasant, ill judged piece by our PM on the Telegraph website. What a nasty little thing to write on Father’s day, when so many dads who would love to be taking responsibility for their children are being prevented from doing so. It does rather give an impression that Cameron’s world is not that of the people.

I understand that Cameron is coming from a particular place, having lost his own Father since last Father’s Day. However, I do wonder at the sense of perspective in raging at dad’s who go “AWOL” when there are so many other things to focus on – both in the world at large and in terms of the question of families and fathers. Of course there are many irresponsible, absent, disinterested fathers, and some fathers who behave inappropriately to their kids and partners, or who are plain dangerous. But where – in this championing of fatherhood, of the family, of the importance of two parents raising children – are the proposals to enable those fathers to “spend time with their kids at weekends, taking them to the football or the playground; to go to the nativity play and take an interest in their child’s education” as Cameron urges them to do? I don’t think Cameron used Mother’s day as an opportunity to bash mothers who withhold contact without good reason.

Many fathers have no excuses for not doing these mundane things; many others would love to have been playing a bit of knockabout footy today but cannot. And many more will soon be unable to effectively ask the courts for help in maintaining these relationships in future because Cameron’s government is about to slash the legal aid that will enable them to go to court when their children’s mother is refusing to allow them to play a role in their kids’ lives (The Legal Aid Bill is expected this week).

When it suits the Government it wheels out the traditional family values line – today its all about bashing a few feckless fathers. But next week it will suit the government to brand those desperate attempts to keep in touch with children through the courts as petty disputes that do not warrant our support. Parents should be grown ups and should be able to sort these things out themselves, or so it goes. And often that is true. But as we all know, separating parents are often not very grown up, and from his experience of raising children himself Cameron will no doubt know that good behaviour is not hard wired, but environmentally driven – it requires a set of rules, an authority figure and a means of enforcing that authority: we call this boundaries. For kids it might be time out, withdrawal of privilege. For parents it is the law and the courts. Leaving them settle to disputes in the themselves invariably ends in bloody noses and tears. Telling kids not to do x, y or z will have no effect if they know you never follow through on consequences. Family courts are not of course primarily punitive, but as research has shown the existance of the ultimate authority of the courts is part of the backdrop to successful mediation and ADR.

I’ve said my piece, but I hope David Cameron will be shown this heartfelt and poignant open letter in response to his Telegraph shennanigans and I hope he (and the Ministry of Justice will reflect upon it).


6 thoughts on “Cameron’s Balance Goes AWOL

  1. As you point out there are many fathers who would love to be part of the lives of their children, but because of the relationship breakdown between the mother and father he is denied from doing so. There are, of course, a few (and I believe that they are a minority) fathers who are feckless and go AWOL.

    This debate often becomes about absent fathers, but equally there are mothers who walk out on their children and want nothing to do with them. How often do we hear of these mothers being condemned? Almost never.

    Again, the position with absent mothers can be the same as that with absent fathers: they want to be part of the lives of their children but are being prevented from doing so.

    These are very misguided comments by the PM once again. Children should have the active involvement of both parents in their lives, unless to do so would not be in the best interests of the child. If parents cannot sort it out by themselves (which they should be able to as they are adults, but not everyone who hast children is mature enough to put the welfare of the child before their own petty squabbles) then there should be recourse to the courts to resolve the dispute an ensure the welfare of their child(ren) is protected.

    • I should of course have pointed out the existence if AWOL mums and hostile dads, but in the interests of brevity (and getting to bed before midnight) did not. Thank you for making the point for me.

  2. Provincial Solicitor

    Totally agree with what you say. I was amazed to see this piece in the very week that the PM’s government will seek to withdraw legal aid from fathers who actually want to spend time with their children but are prevented from doing so. What utter hypocrisy.

  3. Nick Langford

    I agree entirely with your post, Lucy, and am particularly pleased that you are allowing comments!
    I have no doubt that Cameron understands this issue only too well. When F4J met the Conservatives shortly before the Election we were hugely impressed by their understanding of our concerns about the family justice and child support systems and by their proposals for reform – all of which are now abandoned. They clearly had a very good team working on this – headed by Henry Bellingham – and they had done a great deal of careful work.
    Cameron’s Telegraph article will have been written largely by his advisors and carefully honed to create the desired effect – this is politics, not a personal view. I’m sure it has far more to do with trying to get the party faithful – the Telegraph readership – on side as he cuts legal aid and imposes charges for CSA applications, both extremely unpopular measures.
    There is little evidence for the deadbeat dad, researchers have found him very elusive. Most absent fathers pay up, and most of those who don’t either can’t afford to, are being excluded, or aren’t the father anyway. Some are even dead.
    Cameron’s exhortation to stigmatise ‘runaway dads’ and to heap the ‘full force of shame’ on them is unlikely to have any effect at all (I don’t think we’re even meant to treat terrorists like that, are we?). Judging from the online comments, his plan may well have backfired.

  4. […] agree that the tendency to demonise fathers is to be decried (and I wrote about that after the unfortunate Father’s Day remarks by the PM). I wonder though at the wisdom of an approach that says in effect – “We’ve […]

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