The Children’s Act (2004) outlaws only forms of smacking that leave “grazes, scratches, abrasions, minor bruising, swelling, superficial cuts, black eyes” or worse.
Which raises the question of just how hard Boris Johnson wants to be able to hit his kids.
The problem with the smacking debate is it very quickly descents to the level of anecdote – I was smacked, you weren’t, his father used to break his arms, etc. – and the trouble is, the plural term for anecdote isn’t “data”.
I was smacked occasionally, although not in a way that would have put my mum on the wrong side of the 2004 law. Perhaps because, unlike the demographic profile for mixed-race males from single-parent families I went to university and was only as unsuccessful as someone graduating after 2007 can expect to have been, this means that smacking is a good thing. Or perhaps not.
I just don’t know, and the reality is it’s essentially impossible to draw anything approaching a measured conclusion about the effects, or otherwise, of a law that was passed only eight years ago, so the whole smacking debate just becomes about trading assertions, and in many cases, they’re actually about something completely different to the issue at hand.
Boris, for example, wants to be Prime Minister when he grows up, and seizes every and any opportunity to outflank Cameron on the right. I’m simply not convinced by the thesis of the original intervention from David Lammy. But perhaps there is a rioter out there with parents who were going to smack him but didn’t because of the 2004 Children’s Act, but I doubt it. However, what Lammy’s remarks and the subsequent outcry expose is our collective political failure to respond to The Riots(™) in any sensible fashion.
It’s a commonly remarked-upon truth, that for politicians, crises are like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter; they simply show them what they wanted to see in any case. This is particularly odious in the case of the riots; the embers of CarpetRight weren’t yet cold when Fraser Nelson blogged that here was the case for welfare reform brought to the streets, and the Labour Party was no better. I am a zealot for the ability of EMA to change lives and to create opportunity, but I just don’t believe that the price of our civil disguise is thirty quid a week. Seeing as no one seriously predicted that there would be riots across the major cities of the United Kingdom – Nick Clegg doesn’t count, the man makes a ridiculous sweeping generalisation about his opponents every week, that he struck right once doesn’t make the process legit – that suggests that there are major flaws in all of our systems of thought and all our pre-ordained assumptions.
For the entirety of the democratic era in British politics, all parties have operated under the belief that a combination of economic growth and state largesse would cure our country’s ills – a quartet of transformative Prime Ministers, Asquith, Attlee, Thatcher and Blair, may have shifted the balance drastically in one direction or another but those parameters remain the same – and it’s hard not to see that that assumption was severely challenged, if not destroyed, by the riots. I am sceptical that the ‘answer’ to the question of the riots, is a one-liner, whether that line be ‘EMA’, ‘welfare dependency’ ‘stop-and-search’, or, indeed ‘smacking’, but more alarming than any of those suggestions should be the fact that no-one has offered a meaningful way forward after the events of last summer.
This post originally appeared on LabourList.