Westminster has closed down for the summer recess. In the vacuum left behind, the pre-election posturing punch up is beginning to take shape. This is the routine lead up to the General Election, where those organisations who stand to gain or lose something (money), start their jostling for position to ensure that they will not lose favour whoever wins.
Watching from the sidelines and having been involved in this spectacle for more years than I care to remember, I cannot help but smile as the ‘great’ and the ‘good’ wheel out their wheezes for the next round of handouts to pay their CEO’s the cash they need to rest on their laurels for another term. Because, ladies and gentlemen, in case you thought that electioneering was about actually changing something, think again. Electioneering is about posturing and punching high above one’s weight to make the civil servants believe that one has something which is going to please the next round of Ministers. It is less about meeting the needs of families and more about making sure the reflection that is given back to government about the work that is done and the need that is out there, is what the next government wants to see.
Before we get to the handy guide then, let’s take a quick spin around the last four years of ‘monumental’ change in the field of family separation, which was heralded by the formation of the coalition government.
This government was going to change the world. It was going to change the Children Act 1989 and it was going to reconfigure the Child Maintenance System so that collaboration is the order of the day.
What did we get?
Clause 11 of the Children and Families Act, a watered down version of the already watered down waste of words that was the original intention to underline the importance of both parents in a child’s life after separation. Which in the end never got enacted and simply dropped off the edge of the Cliff, much like it’s champion Tim Loughton who was likely pushed over by an unknown gang of thugs masquerading as concerned women’s rights activists. And if he wasn’t, he may as well have been.
Help and Support for Separated Families. The somewhat hapless, definitely hopeless, damp squib of a blow up raft of services lead by a widget and a ‘quality mark’ which is meaningless and in some places detrimental to parents who use it. And all to the tune of twenty million quid.
For a couple of years at least, all of the services funded by government had to act ‘as if’ they supported collaboration between parents, this of course is now fading fast as each and every organisation starts to limber up and guess which way the electorate will go when they next sign away their right to complain at the ballot box. Eyeing up the labour party, laughing at the liberals and working out what to do in the event that UKIP gets more than a foot in the door of the next government, the charities and individuals who make their money from the world of family separation politics are tying up their shoe laces, putting on their running vests and getting ready to persuade Westminster that they and only they can carry out the next phase of reformation. On the way to such glory there will be, this autumn, a spectacular round of pre-election posturing. Roll up folks here is your handy guide to the punch up about to begin.
On the left we have Gingerbread. Those gals who fervently want you to believe that all families come in shapes and sizes, or is it families come in all shapes and sizes? Either way what they want you to know is that one parent or two, the only thing that matters is the money. Forget children’s psychological adjustment, ditch the concerns about mothers who alienate, away with the idea that children benefit from the relationships between their parents and off with the heads of anyone who thinks that fathers are necessary – unless of course they are deserving single parent fathers, which basically means that they have to be widowers or the mother of their children must be bad, bad and dangerous to know (think drug/drink/mental health problems). Any father who is non resident is automatically suspicious, especially if he wants to have a relationship with his child. Such men are only good for the colour of their money, which should be hoovered from their pockets and their bank accounts, preferably by the state, with a threat of severe punishment (if not death) should he fail to tip up. Gingerbread have recently released their pre-election manifesto (sorry research), confirming that the only thing that matters after separation is money (to pay for their enormous staff team and cover their senior management salaries/ whoops, sorry, so that children can be fed and have shoes).
On the right we have the Mindful Policy Group, championed by last century’s parenting Guru Penelope Leach. These people will tell you that evil fathers who want to have overnights with their children before the age of three are deliberately damaging the brains of their offspring. When confronted with the contradictions in this argument they will swiftly back track and change tack and when they have finished dodging and weaving they will wind up back where they started by inviting the architecht of the research they use to make these assertions, to a seminar for the Judiciary (where presumably they will be telling Judges and CAFCASS why overnights before the age of three are a bad idea). What they are likely to fail to tell you is that the research that they rely on is interpreted through a lens which is skewed towards mothers as primary carers. But what the heck, it’s all just posturing anyway, it’s not like anyone is likely to listen (apart from the Judges who decide the fate of these kids).
In between we have the individuals eyeing up the finishing line of their race to secure new funding for their ever so clever ideas. The self proclaimed ‘social entrepreneurs’ whose role it seems, is a bit like that of a rackateer in wartime. Making money off the backs of other people’s work, these spivs sell their wares across the internet, gathering around them other people’s expertise to make them appear both knowledgeable and part of the field we work in. Furtively opening their coats to show us the goodies they have for sale, they even proclaim their wheezes were written on the back of a fag packet in a train station..some will fall for this and others will not. Whilst meaningless in terms of shaping the way that family policy will evolve, these spivs are eyeing up the cash just like everybody else is.
Around and about are the Nuffield Foundation, funding research to examine the lived experience of separated families, gathering a coterie to tell them what they want to hear and confirm what the Nuffield already know about family separation, which is that the mantra mother = good and father = bad is a universal ‘truth’ which none of us should ignore.
Woven into the fabric of this landscape are the relationship charities, the ones who really only want us all to have healthy relationships, (whilst secretly signing documents designed to ensure that Clause 11 is driven into a cul-de-sac) and the children’s charities, who want the Cinderalla Law and all of its attendant funding potential to come into being (whilst making sure that issues like parental alienation, a true abuse of a child, is never recognised in such a law).
On the far outside, shouting into the wind, is the Centre for Social Justice, the only think tank with the guts to speak about the necessity of fathers and the potential for changing the post separation landscape for children.
Nowhere to be seen (as yet) are the family charities, those supporting fatherhood and the people who know that generational trauma patterns are being passed from parents to children, aided and abetted by the focus on women’s rights in the field of family separation policy and practice. That’s because posturing punch ups cost time and money, which most of these people are spending on working with families, not talking about them.
That then, is your handy guide to the pre-election posturing punch up. It’s going to be a right royal roller coaster of a ride, that will change absolutely nothing at all. It will be a whole load of shouting, a whole lot of posturing, some weasling and some whining. After which it will be business as usual.
If it were not so sickening, sad and sorry a scene, I would say sit back and enjoy the ride. Instead I will say, know your enemies and you will know where to put your energies. Change will come far too slowly for too many families through parliamentary means.
Packing now to head off to the Jersey Centre for Separated Families, where we are training a new cohort of volunteers for Magical Milli’s to work holistically with families through and beyond family separation.
Because if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got and if we keep on doing what we always do, another generation of children will suffer the same fate as those of the past fifty years or so. In Jersey, as in other places through the Family Separation Hub, we are doing things differently. Time is better spent doing than talking and preventing than posturing.
But I cannot help commenting on the spectacle!
Happy holidays everybody.