This morning on our way to nursery, my two-year-old daughter gave her six-month-old brother her favourite teddy, which she guards fiercely, to stop him crying. I wish Boris Johnson had seen this tiny act of kindness from someone he has described as “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” [please don’t think I’m claiming my child is angelic: if my son had tried taking that toy off her without it being her decision it would have ended in tears all round]. These are the words he chose to describe all the children born of single mothers.
The Tory leader used his column in The Spectator to moralise about family values, saying it was “outrageous” that married couples should pay for the single mothers’ who desire to procreate independently of men. He suggested cuts to benefits for teenage single mothers who he said choose to have babies to have “a little creature to love” in their “monotonous and depressing lives”.
Sweeping aside the question this raises of whether he is in the best position to moralise about family values, and the injustice of claiming that single parents are being paid for when so many work incredibly hard, his words are careless in a region where there are two million single parent families. That’s a lot of voters.
He also alienated all those couples who have chosen not to get married. Apparently a man like that is “feeble” for being unable, or unwilling, to “take control of his woman”. I wonder if that’s the same sort of Taking Back Control that we’ve been seeing in this country since the Brexit vote?
Now, I don’t want to be unfair to Johnson: these were views he held in 1995. The column has been unearthed by Baroness Shami Chakrabati, former director of civil rights advocacy group Liberty, because of the election. In the last 25 years, society has evolved and become more tolerant. I hope it isn’t wishful thinking to expect his thinking to have done so too – though this is a man who has more recently compared women wearing burqas and niqabs to letterboxes, and described Africa as a country – so I’m not sure enlightened views are something we’ve come to expect from the Tory leader.
I asked a solo mum whether we should judge him for comments made so very long ago. “He was 31 when he wrote it, so we can’t put it down to youthful stupidity and, as far as I’m aware, he has not made any attempt to apologise or correct himself in subsequent years,” she said.
Now that Baroness Chakrabati has unearthed this piece of writing, Johnson has every chance to address the issue of single parent families today and whether he still believes this: I hear Andrew Neil’s diary is open whenever he wants to chat. I hope that he would backtrack; maybe he could even use that magic “S” word, so absent in politics lately, that my ill-raised two-year-old says on occasion.
I’m glad that these comments have been unearthed. Not to discredit Johnson – we don’t need to look to his past when his present policies speak for themselves. But because they have reminded me that while politics in 2019 is hugely depressing, the changes in society over the last 24 years are something to celebrate.
Women are more equal and more free to follow their dreams (there’s still a way to go); same-sex couples are more free to celebrate their love for each other (there’s still a way to go); racism is being called out more frequently (there’s still a way to go). Single parent families also face a lot less stigma.
I haven’t lost friends because our family doesn’t conform to the 2.4 model, instead I’ve seen my friends offer me emotional support. I haven’t felt unwelcome in the new town we’ve moved to, instead families have asked me how I talk to my children about donor conception so they can use the same language with their children.
The love and support that my children and I receive daily reminds me how very lucky we are to live in such a tolerant, open, kind and welcoming society. I just hope that the intolerance in politics in 2019 fails to rub off on the wonderful individuals in so many single parents’ lives.