Sunday, 29 January 2012

David Lammy and My Increasing Disappointment in the Labour Party.

This one is as the title says really. I feel that another nail has been pounded into the over crowded coffin of the current Labour party. Even Diane Abbott has been disappointing me recently, and that's saying something.

Anyway, today there was an article in the Guardian quoting Tottenham MP David Lammy's interview with LBC where he outlines his support for slackening the current smacking laws (you are allowed to smack your child but nothing that causes a reddening or marking of the skin). He feels that parents should be allowed to be "sovereigns of their own homes" and able to use their own judgement when it comes to disciplining their children. He actually goes so far to suggest that the London riots could have been avoided if parents were allowed to discipline their children with as much force as they like. I don't even have a response to that, it's such a stupid comment I don't think it needs one.

He did actually make a couple of good points in the interview, firstly that the reddening of the skin distinction was a bit irrelevant for non-white parents and secondly that many parents are confused by changes in law around smacking and disciplining their children. Obviously skin comes in many different colours and shades and some reddens easier than others so therefore a law that makes this distinction is completely unworkable. And if laws are changed and different distinctions made then people will be confused. Hell, I'm confused by it!

Unlike David Lammy though, my resolution for these discrepancies and confusion is simple. Ban smacking. If there was a blanket ban on hitting children there would be no space for arguments of any kind.

I am actually one of those people who can stand up and say "I was smacked as a child and it didn't do me any harm". I was never smacked hard and I wouldn't say that the smacking was ever unmerited (I consider drawing on the carpet with felt tips would be enough to drive any parent to their limits), and it didn't do me any harm, I love my parents dearly and we're very close. It's not shaped me that much as an adult; I don't resort to physical violence to settle disputes and I wasn't out there looting JD Sports during the riots. But I was scared of this punishment as a child and I vividly remember being afraid of the possibility of a smack. I am therefore aware that there is a distinction to be made between what the majority of parents would consider reasonable chastisement and what is very blatantly unreasonable abuse. The loving and happy childhood (with very occasional smacking) I had is obviously not in any way comparable to the likes of what Victoria Climbie and Peter Connolley went through but the crucial point is where do we draw the line? If there is a blanket ban then fewer children will suffer and fall through the net.

I cannot understand how it is illegal to hit an adult who is annoying you but it's OK to hit a child. Shouldn't we be protecting the most vulnerable members of our society?

I'm also not going to pretend that I have all the answers when it comes to child discipline. I am blessed with a generally well behaved and easy going child whom we currently employ a variation on the naughty step for. We call it the "thinking step", bleeding heart liberals that we are! The idea is that meanderingdaughter sits on the step, is told why and we check she understands and apologises for her misdemeanours before she's allowed off. It is working well but I think that's because it hasn't really occurred to her that if she really wanted to, she could get up and walk off; at the moment she just sits there and looks sheepish... I know this approach is frowned upon by some and that's fair enough, I don't know if it's the right way to go but what I do know is that's it's not causing meanderingdaughter any harm and that's the most important thing.

I would like to add that I also do occasionally completely lose my rag with meanderingdaughter and have screamed at her and scared her in a way I would not do to an adult (except when they step in front of my bike). Consequently I can see how easy it would be to lose control and hit a child, especially in difficult circumstances (eg being a single parent of more than one child) and I personally wouldn't censure a parent for doing so occasionally. Saying that (and I know I'm vaguely contradicting myself here) I don't however think that physically disciplining your child should be legally acceptable behaviour.

So, unlike Lammy, I am all for a tightening up of our laws and attitudes to child discipline in this country. I think a little more respect for self and others all round would work better for preventing riots and hopefully create relationships based on understanding instead of fear.

As a last point it is a worry that Lammy is touting these views when he is an MP for part of Haringey, a borough with arguably a more troubled past than most when it comes to child abuse. What those cases should teach us is that children's safety and well being should be a priority and there is no excuse for hitting a child.

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