Ken Clarke: David Cameron is taking on the attitudes of America’s ‘religious right’
But David Cameron has made his commitment to supporting marriage through the tax system foundational to his social policy. And foundational it ought to be. The laudable work done by Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice - not to mention common sense - has persuaded the Conservative Party to reintroduce tax breaks for married couples, recognising that marriage is a fundamental building block of a stable society, and the more it is encouraged and the more it succeeds, the less the state has to spend on the appalling consequences of family breakdown. There is empirical evidence which inclines one to the view that marriage is not only of considerable benefit to those who are married, but also to their children and to society. Mr Cameron has argued consistently that the decline of marriage has contributed significantly to the ‘broken society’ which the Conservative Party is pledged to restore.
But Ken Clarke dismisses support for marriage as ‘social engineering’, and observes a touch of the American ‘religious right’ entering Conservative thinking. He proudly boasts: “I got rid of the married couples’ allowance,” and added: “I really don't think it's anything to do with politicians whether you (get married) and most of the younger people I know don't seem very keen on it. My view of Conservatism is that it's not for us to tell you (what to do through) the tax system – my wife didn't put up with me because I was getting £150 by way of tax allowance. This is social engineering, for God's sake, and when I joined the party we weren't in favour of it.”
Cranmer is not quite sure why Mr Clarke’s wife ever put up with him, but the observation that state support for marriage ‘is social engineering for God’s sake’ is most apt. It ought to be evident to all right-minded politicians that marriage is a union observed in all cultures, and seems, according to Aristotle, to exist by nature. Marriage in the Bible is essential for the functioning of society, and is the model used to explain the mystery of Christ’s relationship to the church (Eph 5:25-32). The Church of England ‘affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman’. This has its basis in the Old Testament, where YHWH says: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’ (Gen 2:18). It continues: ‘for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh’ (v24). Although these verses do not purport to define marriage, they do describe its origin, and are therefore crucial for understanding the Bible’s teaching on marriage.
The state’s recognition of marriage is indeed social engineering for God’s sake, for all manner of issues of family breakdown, poverty, social disorder and crime are inseparable from it. The poorer parents are, the more they struggle to raise their children. If they are penalised financially for staying together, the more they may be inclined to separate. And so single mothers abound, and it is the children who suffer.
Cranmer would rather have David Cameron’s ‘religious right’ than Ken Clarke’s secular left any day. But it does not have to be sullied with America’s notion thereof, for England’s religious right is the true foundation of Conservatism, which has historically been fused with the Church of England.