Fraser Nelson

For how long has legitimacy been the rule?

For how long has legitimacy been the rule?
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When was the last time that most kids were born outside marriage, as they will be this year? Decades, centuries or millennia? This was the fact I couldn’t nail down for my post yesterday (which Philip Johnston has done a vg story on in the Telegraph today). I am excluding immigrants, who flatter most economic and social indictors in Britain, and I think I may have to concede defeat unless any CoffeeHousers out there know.

The left has a tradition of arguing that the nuclear family is a bourgeoisie innovation. Engels wrote a whole book on it and some academics see the family as a “transient phase in our society”  But Ferdinand Mount’s book The Subversive Family (available for a mere 56p on Amazon) shows how, to the chagrin of the left, the family has been around since primal times and has proved “the permanent enemy of all hierarchies, churches and ideologies”.

Mount published in 1982 when 14% of UK births were outside marriage rather than today’s 51%. Has the welfare state since succeeded where all the others failed in breaking down the British family? I once had a letter from a News of the World reader who explained how better-off his family would be without him in it. He went through all the calculations: his wife could get a council house, benefits, child support etc without his presence as an earner. He concluded the best thing he could do for his family was to leave it. It was a heartbreaking letter, but multiply it by tens of thousands and you have the effect of what’s going on in British council estates today. The low-income family has been robbed of its economic rationale.

The Spectator’s leader in the treble issue out today uses the Nativity to look at children and the family. Brown is right to say it’s the big theme. But our leader argues that the answer lies more with the award-winning work being done by IDS than it does with Ed Balls and his ten-year plans. The Tories are planning their welfare reform to come out in January. To my mind, one of the key questions of politics next year is whether they can get it right.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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