Nick Clegg thinks marriage is just a piece of paper
He has tried for years to grasp their underlying philosophy, to appreciate their concerns, to discern their political priorities. But, try as he may, he cannot. They pontificate on a myriad of issues, but say different things in different councils. And when they attain power, as they did in the Scottish Parliament, they jettison everything their councillors and members profess in order to govern in accordance with their need to be seen to govern.
Their leader, Nick Clegg, is an embittered soul. There was a time when he appeared to be a man with whom the Conservatives could do business. But now he simply berates them at every turn. This has been evidenced most recently after David Cameron’s publicised support for marriage. Faithful communicant Nick Gulliford has sent in Mr Clegg’s response, given (ironically) to the 3rd Relate Annual Conference on 8th July:
“The fact that some relationships will fail doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do all we can to make other relationships succeed.”
He trumpeted, “David Cameron’s social policy is focused almost obsessively on marriage, cajoling people to conform to a single view of what a happy couple should look like... it’s relationships that matter, not signatures on a piece of paper.”
He went on:
“But the Labour party is wrong, too, when it ignores interpersonal relationships. When it pretends that family circumstances don’t make a difference to children’s lives. All the evidence shows that it’s better for children to have two parents who get on well together looking after them.”
So he reads some research when it suits him.
Like other Liberal Democrats, he ‘attaches real value to relationships, to commitment and to love, but does not seek to limit or prescribe what makes for a strong relationship’.
But did he not just say that it is wrong to pretend ‘that family circumstances don’t make a difference to children’s lives’?
Family circumstances – including marital status – do make a difference to children's lives. Harry Benson of Bristol Community Family Trust has updated his earlier research with Back off or Fire back? Negative relationship behaviours amongst postnatal married and cohabiting couples, in which he says:
'Analysis of marital outcomes amongst 15,000 mothers from the Millennium Cohort Study (Benson, 2006) showed that 6% of married parents had split up by their child’s third birthday compared with 20% of cohabiting parents and 32% of all unmarried couple parents (combining parents who describe themselves as either “cohabiting” or “closely involved").'
Benson’s analysis also found that marital status was the single most important factor in predicting break-up. Demographic factors such as age, income, education, ethnic group and receipt of welfare payments each independently influence the risk of family breakdown amongst new parents. Yet after controlling for these factors, unmarried parents were still more than twice as likely to split up compared to similar married couples.
Analysis of the most recent wave of Millennium Cohort Study data for this paper showed that the risk of breakdown by a child’s fifth birthday had risen to 9% for married parents, 26% for cohabiting parents and 35% for all unmarried couples. The risk of family breakdown amongst unmarried couples with children under five years old is thus four times higher than for equivalent married couples.
So if clever Nick Clegg is right to complain the Labour party's ‘wish not to stigmatise single parents has led them to minimise the importance of couples in family life’, he is wrong by the same token to ignore the evidence of the significance of marriage in providing more stability in the family life of couples – four times as much for couples with children under five.
Marriage might just be a piece of paper to Nick Clegg. But, to Cranmer, no Liberal Democrat policy is worth the paper it is written on.