David Lammy MP is reported to believe that working class people should be allowed to smack their children within ‘reasonable’ limits. Whether he also believes that (in the public perception?) banning the physical chastisement of children helped fuel the 2011 Summer riots is immaterial. On this, if he truly believes any of it, the usually admirable Mr Lammy is plain wrong. Wrong. Extraordinarily wide of the mark and much worse.
David Lammy should be campaigning, not to provide excuse for parents to hurt their offspring, but rather ceaselessly to halt all violence against children, including the horrors of FGM (female genital mutilation), which undoubtedly occurs in his constituency. That way lies a more secure and enduring community peace.
If you have a Twitter account and would like to draw more attention to this issue, please use the hashtag #NoFGM and follow @NoFGM1. Thank you. .
Smacking resolves nothing
Post-war BabyBoomers will recall that adults smacking children was common in the UK in the 1950s and even much later. Our fathers, it must be remembered, had experienced first hand the state-sanctioned carnage that was World War II. Caning was actually accepted as standard practice in schools across the land. And ‘wife-beating’ was likewise usually unremarked.
But none of this casual cruelty stopped horrible crimes, or even the 1980s riots; and it co-existed with other unutterably ugly forms of violence against children which are only now becoming generally acknowledged. Mr Lammy should be campaigning, not to provide excuse for parental hurt to their offspring, but rather ceaselessly to halt all violence against children, including the horrors of FGM (female genital mutilation), which undoubtedly occurs in his constituency.
Of parents’ ‘right’ to smack David Lammy says:
The real pressures [on parents] of raising children for example on the 15th floor of a tower block with knives, gangs and the dangers of violent crime just outside the window [are that] they no longer feel sovereign in their own homes and the ability to exercise their own judgement in relation to discipline and reasonable chastisement has been taken away from them. It’s too easy for middle class legislators to be far removed from the realities of the typical single mum struggling with these issues and so in that context in the book* I do say that we should return to the law as it existed for 150 years before it was changed in 2004.
[* Out of the Ashes: Britain after the riots, Guardian books, Nov. 2o11]
The extraordinary proposal that we return to the legislation of 1854 aside, we are left to wonder how violent crime ‘outside the window’ will be prevented by violence – for that is the essence of smacking – inside it.
Inner city problems run deep
Despite the side-swipe at those ‘far removed from the realities of the typical single mum struggling with these issues’, many of us know areas like Hackney, Toxteth and Salford well. And we know, as surely does David Lammy, that the problems run a great deal deeper than the debate about smacking, however much some would like it to stay at that level.
It is heartbreakingly disappointing that a leading progressive thinker should permit such distressing double-think, at the apparent behest of people, his constituents, who seek support. David Lammy speaks from important personal experience of the lives of single mothers, but Sure Start is politically an infinitely better way forward to help single parent (and all other) families than is the promotion of ‘reasonable’ smacking.
And there are much wider issues also to consider.
Violence against the vulnerable takes many forms. The continuum may start at ‘reasonable chastisement’ (i.e. a smack unintended to inflict serious harm), but it moves on from there to life-threatening damage, sexual abuse or rape, and the grimly unthinkable atrocities of, e.g., FGM (female genital mutilation).
Behind closed doors
All these have been deemed in some public discourse to be matters of private activity within the ‘sovereignty’ of people’s own homes.
Of course, absolutely, David Lammy does not intend for one moment to condone the more grotesque shores of ‘family’ violence, but that could be said by some to be an inference of support for smacking children.
Areas such as the UK’s inner cities are where, away from the public eye, many grave injuries are inflicted by family members, especially men, on completely defenceless infants and on the girls and invisible women allegedly in their ‘care’.
Violence against babies and children can never make things truly better. Upholding unequivocally the current legislation which forbids harming children in any way, whether hitting them, sexual abuse or even FGM, is how to move forward.
A strong and articulate man speaking out – as for instance Daniel Craig did about gender equality – makes so much more sense for all our futures than a similarly visible person harking back to a time when hanging and flogging were commonplace.
Sometimes it takes true courage and leadership to move from vox pop to getting things right. I hope David Lammy will now insist very publicly on the proper legal enforcement of matters which in default make many women fearful for themselves and their infants, and make girls in certain circumstances deeply afraid; but which most men are simply not brave or honest enough to confront.
There’s real work for a less violent future to be done here. Hard graft and courageous work, for all the right and most compelling reasons.
If you have a Twitter account and would like to draw more attention to FGM issues, please use the hashtag #NoFGM and follow @NoFGM1. Thank you.