“I like you guys who wanna reduce the size of government – make it just small enough so it can fit in our bedrooms.” Josh Lyman, The West Wing.
I’ll never learn. I wasted half an hour this morning listening to a radio phone-in about David Cameron’s plans to “recognise marriage through the tax system” or, as FiveLive’s Nicky Campbell billed it, “Is wedlock the bedrock?”. Quite. Inevitably I ended up shouting at the usual reactionary Daily Mail nonsense that spewed out of many of the ‘contributors’ prissy, moralising mouths until I realised with disgust that I had allowed their Middle England rage to push my buttons. The thing is, if the Tories get in this year I’ll have to be prepared for much more of the same as there will no doubt be an endless stream of core vote-pleasing guff emanating from Downing Street.
What annoys me most about the policy of tax breaks for married people is the interference with people’s private lives and choices. The Conservative Party have spent much of the past twelve years moaning about the ‘Nanny State’ yet don’t see the irony in proposals which foist their own version of morality onto everyone else. The unspoken part of the deal is that, if you’re co-habiting, divorced or simply choose to live alone, you are somehow inferior to those (like me) who have decided to get married. It’s classic, old-fashioned, prescriptive Toryism and it’s one of those things that the people who are flirting with voting for Cameron have completely overlooked.
It’s not as if there is an unarguable case that marriage makes everything better. The Tories seem more than willing to pin all of society’s problems on the declining popularity of the traditional family unit without any solid evidence to back it up. They conveniently ignore the role that basic old-fashioned poverty may have to play in crime and social division (problems that their eighteen-year period in office did much to exacerbate) instead choosing to believe that a ring on the finger will make it all better. It is, of course, patronising nonsense aimed at the already affluent and (coupled with the inheritance tax giveaway to the very wealthy) gives a fairly clear indication of the direction Cameron aims to take us in, not that it was ever really in any doubt.
UPDATE: 9th April 2010. The Tories have put some flesh on the bones of this daft policy now that the election campaign is under way – it equates to £3 a week. £3 a week may well be useful to many, but it’s hardly likely to cause a stampede in the direction of the registry office. Wouldn’t that money be better spent helping people who are struggling – married or not?