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David Cameron Has Already Failed the 'Family Test'

19/08/2014 12:02 BST | Updated 18/10/2014 10:59 BST

Back from his latest holiday, David Cameron was up bright and early for BBC Breakfast to announce not so much a policy but an apparently family-centric approach to future policies.

It's hard to argue against the basic idea, that all policies will have to pass a 'family test'. Cameron has said that from October every new domestic policy "will be examined for its impact on the family". The sound-bite accompanying this initiative is "nothing matters more than family."

Alert viewers of the Breakfast interview will have noticed, however, that when it was pointed out that single parent families are families too, Cameron quickly went into talking about relationships between parents, as though when alluding to 'families' he actually means units comprising of two adults and children. This will be insulting to people who do not fit Cameron's conception of families.

There are many other problems with the initiative, which might help explain why it was launched in the amiable setting of a breakfast show. Anyone who remembers John Major's government will recall his 'back to basics' initiative, which sought to appeal to 'traditional' values by placing emphasis on "neighbourliness, decency, courtesy...self-discipline and respect for the law, to consideration for others, to accepting a responsibility for yourself and your family."

The context of Major's 1993 speech was Tory splits over Europe, not dissimilar to what we have now, and the back to basics campaign was a cynical attempt to distract from that while playing sections of society off against others. At the time there were endless media attacks on single mothers - something that Major's government fuelled. The initiative collapsed and left the Tories with egg on their faces after a series of sex scandals within the party became public knowledge. It seemed as though decency, courtesy, self-discipline and consideration for others didn't apply to Tory MPs themselves, let alone John Major who, it later emerged, had a four-year affair with colleague Edwina Currie.

In Major's case, the weakness and hypocrisy of the initiative became more and more apparent over time due to the many scandals that rocked the party. In the case of Cameron's current initiative, the hypocrisy and weakness is already as clear as day.

Leaving aside that fact that he left his own little girl alone in a pub while he went home with his entourage, David Cameron seems a strange person to be suddenly expressing concern about children. We are four years into a swingeing austerity-obsessed parliament that has left many - if not most - worse off, and Cameron has persistently made light of the impact of his policies on families and children.

Over the years, when Ed Miliband and others have brought up this very issue, Cameron has dismissed or simply ignored questions. Sometimes in Prime Minister's Questions Cameron and others on the front bench have actually appeared to mock hardship of the poorest families, including when questions have been raised about the dramatic increase in families so desperate that they depend on food banks to survive.

Given that this parliament has been criticised for turning the screws on the poorest while pandering to massive corporations that pay little tax, it is actually shocking that Cameron should bring up families this close to the end of the term. If it isn't (and sadly I think it isn't) an admission that his government has made terrible mistakes throughout the entire term of office by ignoring the plight of struggling families, it is simply electioneering. Rather than admit that he and his administration have done harm to children and families, with what appears to many to be something between wilful disregard and callous vindictiveness, Cameron has attempted to make a distinction between 'traditional' families who he seeks to appease and those who do not conform to Daily Mail conceptions of what families should be like.

For those millions of households worse off since the last parliament, especially those who have had to withhold food, clothes and experiences from their children, this attempt to split voters and impose arbitrary distinctions between the deserving and the undeserving will be infuriating. But Cameron is not addressing those in this initiative, any more than John Major was addressing single mums in his campaign.