Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Where is Mary Poppins when you really need her? King of the non-sequitur and father of modern British mediocrity Tony ‘Blah Blah’ Blair today chose to reveal his latest foray into inflicting permanent damage on the national psyche in an exclusive statement to The Sun. That would be the august organ of fair play that still has pictures of topless bimbos in this age of respect and equality. Blah Blah is falling over himself to clear the too hard basket before his impending redundancy. He was in Afghanistan yesterday issuing ASBOs to those recalcitrant Taliban and today we’ve all been threatened with the naughty step unless we literally get our houses in order. There’ll be more tears at bedtime. From his own fair hand come these words,

‘Being a parent is hard and most of us have to just get on and do it. But there are some families who can’t cope with it. That’s a fact.

It doesn’t much matter whether it’s their ‘fault’ or not. The fact is when they don’t cope, the children suffer and then we all suffer.

Government can’t solve this problem on its own. But it can provide pressure and support. Pressure in making parents responsible for their child’s anti-social behaviour.'

There’s nothing like a considered, reasoned approach. How has this all come about? Well Blah Blah’s good pal over at the market research giant MORI, Ben Page made a couple of calls and discovered,

It’s why the public believes that better parenting is the main key to reducing crime and disorder in our communities.

Do we? I don’t. ‘The main key?’ There is more than one key required to unlock the mystery of why kids go through a five year phase of doing nothing but grunt and listen to other people grunt over drum and bass? Could we label one of those keys ‘puberty’ perhaps. My, it does all sound complicated. No wonder,

It’s also why the overwhelming majority of parents say they would welcome outside help in dealing with difficulties with their children.’

‘In these circumstances, a bit of nannying, with sticks and carrots, is what the local community needs, let alone the child. The cost to society of a child going off the rails can run into tens of thousands of pounds.

I know loads of people with challenging teenagers and not one of them has ever said to me, ‘I’m having a problem with my Shaquille. I think I’ll ask the Government what to do.’ Why? Because they don’t have the first idea about anything, a fact which they go out of their way to demonstrate at every available opportunity. They need to see that they are actually the problem. They are the ones providing the worst public education in the developed world and the poorest social housing and promoting the shallowest ‘values’.

Having grabbed a free tertiary education for themselves in the days when it was still possible to be reasonably well taught, they then decide to make it virtually impossible for children from low income and single parent families to go to university. They constantly moan at us for being in debt but are quite happy to saddle young professionals with anything up to £35,000 worth of student debt before they’ve even got their first job. So it’s all about to become clear,

'Support in using a range of people to show them it can be better. The ‘nanny state’ argument applied to this is just rubbish. No one’s talking about interfering with normal family life.

Sorry… didn’t you just say you were nannying? Perhaps just not in a stately way? And the ethic that is driving this zealous quest?

This should be no surprise given the huge popularity of television programmes in which experts help parents with their problem kids.

So today we are announcing new help for families with difficulties through a nationwide network of parenting experts.’

OK. Let’s take this calmly, one step at a time. The Government’s thinking is being informed by a television programme. Well, yes. There’s nothing unusual in that. Television is after all, a kind of universal focus group. But, and I’m sorry to nitpick when the Government is trying to help us to live properly, ‘a range of people’ might be stretching it just a tad. I did a little bit of maths because I know this is something the Government doesn’t much like doing.

Four million quid spread over 77 areas will give each area around £52,000. An ‘area’ is actually a local authority. These all have a population of a few hundred thousand people of which anything up to a third might be under 16. So, conservatively 10,000 of those might be teenagers. The £52,000 might pay the salary of ONE experienced social worker for ONE year. In central London they’d be struggling. Remember this is supposed to be a super expert type person and their super expert salary would actually be around £45,000. Last time I looked, you didn’t get much of a super expert for that. But even if this person was the expertiest person in the world, each of those teenagers and/or their parents would get an average of just under 10 minutes of this expert's attention, assuming that our experts spend all of their time with the families which of course they wouldn’t.

Government always seems to forget that workers need workspaces, you know, a desk, chair, telephone, mobile. Say a space can actually be found in a busy and pressured council Social Services Department. So this super expert rides in all pumped up and tells all the crusty old jobsworths that the Government wants them to ‘change the way they do things’. There is no money in the budget for materials or events or publicity or, in fact, anything but them so it’s going to all have to be about methods. Then the crusty old jobsworths find more energy than they’ve been able to muster in years to resist this threat to their comfortable old routine. The super expert quickly gets all frustrated because they just want to do ‘summink for the young yoofs’ and everyone is boohoo standing in their boohoo way.

Next thing they’ll be spending all their time at conferences commiserating with each other that they are being marginalised and not listened to and it’s the young people themselves that are really suffering. They needn’t worry too much about this. Young people are used to Government pratting around on their behalf and have got pretty good at ignoring it. Meanwhile the crusty old jobsworths will just have to bide their time and fight over who gets to inherit the newbie’s brand new computer which finally arrives six weeks before the end of their super experty little contract. Trust me, it will happen exactly like this.

I’m not a parent but even I know that you don’t commence ‘parenting’ when a child is twelve years old and starts to act like an alien. Blah Blah - you need to take your little spoonful of sugar and start doling it out in the form of increased pay packets for the growing underclass. In fact, why don't you act like a proper socialist and get into the sugar redistribution business? And you could think about making tertiary education free again. Now that would be a legacy worth leaving.

Cartoon from The Guardian


Fringepoet said...

I'm so glad someone has picked up on this. I'm horrified at the way young people are being demonised. We live in the countryside and were lucky with our kids. Apart from a few scrapes they never got into any real trouble. I can't believe I just said lucky. Why should I even think that having normal kids makes us lucky. The majority of parents in this country can play with their kids and read to them and make sure they get a good start in life. You wouldn't know it from the media.

Groucho said...

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

Lara Croft Tome Reader said...

Its interesting that reading usually surfaces somewhere in these debates on getting kids to straighten up and fly right...invariably with the premise that the 'reading thing' just isn't happening. My experience in a public library suggests young people are already right across this one, so we can all heave a communal sigh of relief on that score, anyway.
All manner of young people's reading matter flies off our shelves faster than you can say "Wingardium Leviosa"(and yes the items are usually returned to us, and on time!)
Of course, it helps that publishing for children and young adults is such a burgeoning enterprise with sundry cross promotional paraphenalia thrown in, but ultimately it is the works themselves that get these punt-sized punters excited - whether it be traditional print format, audio or even e-version. And a good thing too..
"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend, Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read" with apologies to Groucho.

swimmer6foot4 said...

A thought-provoking and well-argued piece. Thanks.

That's so pants said...

Mmmm. The words divide and rule spring to mind.

Lesley Cookman said...

Why is no-one taking any notice of you? Why aren't you writing the leader column in the Guardian or something? Agree, as always, with everything you've said.

And go on, I'll tag you to do the five things!

That's so pants said...

Thanks Lesley and Swimmer6foot4 for the kind words - and welcome back Swimmer. I find it frustrating that no one takes any notice of me either.

Groucho said...

lara croft tome reader - what kind of a name is that anyway - next time I see you, remind me not to talk to you.

ben page said...

Hi - Just wanted to respond to your comments about our survey for the Home Office. I am not Blair's "mate", and other research we have done highlights how the press clearly vilifies young people. At the same time, most people in this country do genuinely blame parenting - and a whole range of other things - as a key factor behind crime and anti-social behaviour, and are supportive of sensible measures that do something about it. You can reach your own conclusions about what the government is doing, but public attitudes are fairly clear - they want more facilities for young people, but also tough measures for repeat offenders, including, yes, parenting classes (they might not be their top priority but they are keen on anything that might help - it's the same with ASBOs. Most people in this country support ASBOs, even Guardian readers, not necessarily because they think they are great, or even that they are particularly effective, but because it is a sign that "something is being done". If you email me I'll send you more details of the research etc

Nice blog

That's so pants said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
That's so pants said...

Ben - thanks for your comments. Did you google yourself to find this post?

PB said...

I'm excited for the kids; there's nothing a generation likes better than to be demonised. Also, it gives the economy a bit of a fillip in the next decade.

1950s - Rock'n'roll tearaways, drinking frothy coffee and playing sinister bongo drums; 1960s - "you've never had it so good".

1970s - Punk rock tearaways, saying RUDE WORDS and putting sugary water in their hair; 1980s - "one day, some one will remember me saying this and quote it to sum up this decade"

So hooray for that. It's the demonisation of parents I'm less happy about.

(Anyone interested in a wider historical view of childhood should send their thuggish offspring to steal a copy of "The Invention Of Childhood" by Hugh Cunningham from the bookshop of their choice. Or listen to the series from whence it came on Radio 4 next month.)

That's so pants said...

That's the spirit PB. Let's have a bit more support for youthful rebellion. After all, we all did it - well I know I did.