Gordon Brown used the opportunity of Labour Party conference to pick on a group of people who are poor, powerless and not much older than children.
Did it make him feel big when he announced “from now on all 16 and 17 year old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes”?
Did he feel like a proper pillar of the establishment when he assured the tax paying public that “these shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly”?
He knew that the public were not really angry with the bankers and politicians. No, he said, the truth was that the “decent hard working majority feel the odds are stacked in favor of a minority” those “who let their kids run riot” and “play by different rules or no rules at all”.
Having identified the true source of society’s breakdown and general disorder, he, Brown, was going to right the wrongs. His remedy — state homes for teenage mothers — would be a beacon in an immoral world.
Brown’s reactionary rhetoric, social conservatism, and stupidity cannot help but conjour up the prospect of a Poor Law for the 21st century, a “welfare” system designed to punish poverty by instituting a regime of “less eligibility”, harsh work, or compulsory institutionalisation.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, under the influence of the church, single women expecting children were put in reformatories and penitentiaries. These “homes” were to punish sin, reform, and rehabilitate “fallen women”. In the 20th century “mother and baby homes” continued to be a last resort for women turned out by their families and unlikely to get social housing.
Brown is drawing on the most draconian traditions of British social policy in order to outdo the Tories at what he considers to be “populist” policy — something that will go down well with the hacks at the Daily Mail.
Whether Tories or Labour win the next general election the poor, low paid and people on benefits will be under attack. Single mothers, even very young single mothers, will be scapegoated and blamed for the problems of capitalism. Ruling class politicians will stop at nothing to defend the interests of their class even if that means persecuting and vilifying very vulnerable people.
Our job is to build a trade union movement that fights to unite the employed and unemployed to defend us from the attacks that are to come.