Against Responsibility

William Davies

  • Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism by Melinda Cooper
    Zone, 447 pp, £24.00, March 2017, ISBN 978 1 935408 84 0

The phrase ‘hard-working families’, a staple of New Labour and Conservative rhetoric for about twenty years, fell by the wayside with the political upheavals of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in 2015 and the resignation of David Cameron the following summer. (Theresa May initially hoped to refocus on ‘JAMs’ – Just About Managing families – but lost all ideological confidence along with her parliamentary majority in June last year.) The phrase was used as a way of signalling economic and moral commitment at the same time. Gordon Brown – who liked to cloak redistributive policies in communitarian, traditionalist rhetoric – is said to have been the first to use it, in 1995. The Blair, Brown and Cameron governments all repeatedly claimed to be on the side of hard-working families, tinkering with tax, benefits and public services as way of helping this opaque group to ‘get on’.

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