Thursday, 2 July 2015

How the Struggle of British Fathers Was Born in the Labour Party, by Matt O'Connor

I was born and raised in the Labour Party.

When I was a young child my mother took me to sit under the sycamore tree on the green at Tolpuddle where one of the first trade unions was formed.

My father shared stories with me about Irish Chartist leader, Fergus O’Connor and ‘The Liberator’, Daniel O’Connell, who had lived close to our family home in County Kerry, Ireland.

As a teenager, I joined the CND rally in London in 1983 and in 1984 joined miner’s picket lines during their strike for survival.

By the late 1980’s I was a campaign co-ordinator for Amnesty International and actively supported the Anti-Apartheid movement.

My belief in human rights and social justice, instilled in me by the Labour Party, is unshakeable.

Nothing then could have prepared me for the discovery in 2001, that my party had betrayed so many of its founding principles.

At a time when the Blair led government was about to engage in a catastrophic and illegal war, it was waging a war at home on fathers.

I was separated from my two young sons in our secret family courts after a difficult divorce.

I discovered an unelected, unaccountable judiciary, operating in complete secrecy.

Before my baptism of fire, I thought courts were for criminals, not families, and that I had a human right to family life, enshrined in Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I was mistaken.

This was legalised cage fighting, pitching parent against parent, and all done in ‘the best interests of the child’.

Something had to be done to make this injustice visible, and Fathers4Justice was born, drawing inspiration from the Suffragettes and the Chartists, with a splash of Monty Python thrown in for good measure.

One Fathers4Justice member, a constituent of Tony Blair, met the then Prime Minister and begged him to give dads a right in law to see their children.

He explained that nearly 4 million children lived in fatherless homes, that the cost of family breakdown to the country was £44 billion and that every day 200 children lost contact with their fathers in secret family courts.

Blair washed his hands of the matter with a few token words of sympathy. “But we can’t change the law with sympathy”, the father told him.

As the Suffragettes said, it’s about deeds, not words. So we responded with our ‘Superheroes’ campaign placing protesting fathers dressed as comic book heroes on national landmarks.

Several months later, in May 2004, the Prime Minister was ‘powderbombed’ during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons by Fathers4Justice protestor Guy Harrison using a condom packed with self-raising flour, mixed with purple icing sugar. (Purple was our adopted colour for equality.) 

This was a protest forged in the fires of civil disobedience, inspired by the party we now took aim at.

One Labour MP railed on BBC Radio 5 Live that we were the worst campaign group he had ever heard of. But he had heard of us.

Another Labour MP berated our methodology. I told him that without people like us, people who fought for basic human rights, the Labour Party would never have existed.

So why have the Labour Party abandoned Britain’s fathers when the party and the trade unions were set up by poor, working class men? In one word, feminism.

Feminism was once a noble cause, fearlessly trailblazed by the Suffragettes who demonstrated immense courage in the face of a hostile public.

Yet the cause has been hijacked by extremists. A party that was once committed to equality and justice for all, is in the ideological grip of a pernicious, fraudulent creed that makes victims of women and demonises men.

Led by Harriet Harman, feminism in the Labour Party peddles a malevolent falsehood to women.

Where instead of achieving equality and improved working rights, women have been herded into poverty pay, plantation labour and fatherless families.

It has turned women against men and driven fathers from families with catastrophic consequences for our children. It has left women either hooked on state benefits, shackled to a till, or worse, a lap dancers pole. 

That 1 in 3 children now lives without a father is living proof of this chilling act of social engineering. Yes, we have a Minister for Women and Equalities, but where is the Minister for Men and Boys?

White working class boys now have the lowest chances of academic achievement and the lowest chance of working life success.

Is it any wonder given so many have been cruelly denied the love and support of their fathers by successive governments?

Even more worrying are pronouncements like those by Caroline Flint, when she was Public Health Minister, who said, “We are considering whether the need for a father is something we need to have” when debating new IVF legislation in 2006.

The consequences for men have been equally disastrous. The biggest killer of men under the age of 50 is now suicide

Fathers are also three times more likely to die after separation than mothers, yet the Labour Party continues to turn a blind eye to the cancer of family breakdown and the impact this has on fathers.

This gender apartheid imprisons many fathers in a glass cellar where they are separated from their children and denied the most basic of human rights, the right to be a parent.

I am ashamed that it was the Labour Party that followed the Conservative Party in demonising fathers as ‘feckless deadbeats’ for cheap political capital as the party cynically attempted to woo the largest constituency of floating voters, single mothers.

In doing so it reduced half the population to the status of sperm banks and cashpoints. Their mantra? You can abandon your children tomorrow, provided you pay. And I thought child support was about emotional and financial support.

But far worse is the implication that 50% of the parenting population are unfit to share in the parenting of their children simply because of their gender.

No wonder support for the party disintegrated at the last election, given they long abandoned their core constituency.

Many fathers now feel they have no voice in their country, no representation in their parliament and no faith in the politicians there.

But there is a way forward.

Before the 2010 General Election, the Conservative Party made a commitment to Fathers4Justice to introduce shared parenting if they were elected.

It was no surprise that they broke this promise, but it paved the way for increasing political and public support.

In 2012, a YouGov poll said 84% of the public supported shared parenting and a poll by Lord Ashcroft for the Conservative Party found that Fathers4Justice were the third highest supported campaign group in the UK just behind Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

In 2013, George Galloway lent the campaign his support, declaring Fathers4Justice to be one of the biggest civil rights campaigns in Britain.

Galloway said that the issue of fatherlessness was one prevailing orthodoxy that was taboo for all the main political parties.

He said that politicians were scared of upsetting a lobby that holds that mothers are always right, but that the idea of shared parenting was one whose time had come.

Last year, 104 MPs from all parties supported Early Day Motion 210, tabled by Galloway on behalf of Fathers4Justice and calling for a presumption of shared parenting.

Many Labour MPs signed the motion including David Blunkett, Frank Field and David Lammy. UKIP even included shared parenting in their 2015 election manifesto.

The consensus for shared parenting is building as Fathers4Justice moves from direct action to political action.  

There exists an opportunity for left of centre parties to engage with Fathers4Justice with a view to creating a fair, open and transparent system of family justice, one that seeks to heal fractured families, not lock them into years of bitter conflict.

A presumption of 50/50 shared parenting and shared child support can only lead to better outcomes for our children, our families and our country.

Shared parenting is responsible parenting and deserves serious consideration by all political parties, but none more so than those on the left, with a legacy of championing human rights and social justice for all.

Fathers4Justice was born out of my love for my children. I want them to grow up in a society where they are valued and respected, where the content of their character is more important than their gender. 

And if we truly believe in gender equality, then fathers deserve shared parenting rights.

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