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Nanny state knows best, Hodge tells critics,3604,1360744,00.html ^

Posted on 11/29/2004 9:22:01 AM

The government set about rehabilitating the image of the nanny state yesterday, sending Margaret Hodge, the ultra-Blairite children's minister who is regarded by her enemies as the nanny-in-chief, to do the awkward repair job. In an unapologetic defence of state intervention, she said: "For me it's not a question of whether we should intrude in family life, but how and when."

Her move, portrayed by the Conservatives as proof of the government's meddlesome intent, came as she prepared to publish a national childcare strategy next week, backed up by advice manuals for parents on how to bring up a child.

She said critics of the nanny state misunderstood the role of nannies. "Good nannies don't just tell you what you can't do ... [or] must do. They are about ensuring that you can make real and informed choices for yourself," she told the Institute for Public Policy Research in London.

That, she said, was Labour's intention in its attempt to help parents bring up healthy and well-adjusted children.

"The right still promotes the absolute privacy of the family. What happens behind closed doors in the intimacy of the family is [to them] a matter of private concern ...

"But for the left, we want to promote opportunity for all and we want to enable every child to develop their full potential ... The state can be a powerful force for good in families and communities and we should celebrate, not denigrate, its role."

Her colleagues may welcome this fightback, but be relieved that it was left to Ms Hodge to risk the ire of rightwing politicians and editors by taking on the argument so forcefully.

Ms Hodge said: "If we seek equal opportunity for all, we must logically act to support parenting in the home. Some may call that the nanny state, but I call it a force for good."

The government would seek to provide support through a parenting helpline and volunteer advisers helping new parents adjust to caring for their babies.

The state also had a duty to intervene to help children escape disadvantage, neglect and abuse. That also could be portrayed as nannying, but was a force for good.

"Yesterday's nanny state has become today's accepted social mores. We all now raise an eyebrow if somebody is drinking when they intend to drive," she said.

Ministers could not be as bold now as they were when the drink-driving laws were introduced. To intervene in family life, there had to be consensus. But there was a danger of nimbyism with people wanting state intervention only when it suited them.

Theresa May, the shadow minister for families, said: "At least Mrs Hodge has admitted what many have been saying for years, that the government is intent on interfering and controlling every aspect of our lives."

She said Ms Hodge's speech confirmed the government was convinced it knew best for Britain's families.

"Whether it is telling you what to eat, whether to smoke or drink, if you should place a bet or how to look after your own children, there is a government minister ready to voice their opinion," she said.

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Custer said:
"Whether it is telling you what to eat, whether to smoke or drink, if you should place a bet or how to look after your own children, there is a government minister ready to voice their opinion," she said.
Voicing an opinion I'm OK with. Giving folks info so they can make informed decisions I think is a legitimate role for the state. It's issuing directives that I have a hard time with. For a mundane example, I think it's a good idea for Public Health authorities to point out how dangerous it is to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet; I think it's a very bad idea for law-enforcement personnel to use the power of the state to force you wear one.
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