The Tories' Marriage Nudge


Mark Vernon lets loose on Cameron's proposed tax breaks for married couples:

The policy shows that the party which unleashed neo-liberalism upon us is still tied to the money-as-morality nexus. And it surely also reveals a kind of displaced guilt. Iain Duncan Smith has convinced his party that family breakdown is linked to social injustice. What the Tories can't admit is how that injustice is linked to the values of Thatcher's free-market, subsequently adopted by new Labour: individualism, short-termism, the choice doctrine, fantasies of self-sufficient freedom.

Burke's Corner begs to differ on the first point:

Cameron clearly indicat[ed] that the policy is not about money - it is, rather, a nudge:

We aren't saying people will get married because of money. But we think that sending a signal that families are at the heart of a strong society is a good thing to do.

The Conservative manifesto's promise to create the most family-friendly society in Europe is - at least partially - a rejection of neo-liberalism. The pledge represents a reassertion of conservatism's older communitarian vision over and against the neo-liberal values proclaimed on the centre-right during recent decades. It is a proclamation that neither the Individual nor the Market is sovereign. To create the most family friendly society in Europe will require the market to be checked and - yes - regulated, precisely because it rejects what Vernon describes as the "money-as-morality-nexus". And it declares that individualism is no longer the centre-right's governing credo.

I'm with Burke's Corner, of course. And I find Cameron's explicit inclusion of gay couples and embrace of the merits of commitment and responsibility with respect to everyone - gay and straight - to be admirably sensible. The government, it seems to me, should stay out of social engineering. But it should make sure it doesn't discourage critical social institutions like the family - and, so far as possible, create policies that favor the virtues that make liberal democracies work: thrift, education, marriage.

PS I'll be live-blogging the first ever election debate between party leaders in Britain at 3.30 pm today.

(Photo: : British leader of the opposition Conservative party, David Cameron, reacts during his visit to a parenting rescource centre in Halifax, northern England on April 15, 2010. British politics bursts into a new era Thursday when the three main party leaders square up for the country's first ever televised general election debates. By Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty/Pool.)