Dead Men Left

Monday, November 22, 2004

Fathers 4 Injustice

Some time ago, an argument erupted in the comments boxes over at Lenin's Tomb concerning Fathers4Justice. F4J have created a great media furore over the last year or so with a series of high-profile stunts featuring estranged fathers dressed up as comic book heroes to demand "fathers' rights" in access for their children. Though widely viewed as misguided prats, there is a certain sympathy for fathers chewed up by the Byzantine adminstrative machine that is the UK's child support system. The recent resignation of the Child Support Agency's Chief Executive, Doug Smith, following mismanagement at the CSA that led to over half of maintenance payments to lone parents being delayed, indicates some of the problems, and not just in access rights that F4J concern themselves with.

When it was suggested at the Tomb, however, that underneath F4J's basically harmless prattery and vaguely meaningful concerns were the politics of an anti-women backlash, not a few threw up their hands horror. Political correctness had gone mad: these poor wronged fathers were merely out for their kids, and it was a typical knee-jerk response of the Left to claim otherwise.

The F4J website makes their politics pretty clear: they claim, as their main campaigning objective, the effective implementation of the 1989 Childrens' Act:

CHILD'S BEST INTEREST PRINCIPLE - ENFORCE THE WILL OF PARLIAMENT NOW! Parliament intended that the child's best interest was best served by children maintaining a loving, meaningful relationship with both parents.

They are, in other words, pressurising the government to implement a shoddy piece of Thatcherite legislation. F4J blame the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) for failing to apply the law as they say it was intended; frankly, in many cases this is entirely sensible: a child's "best interests" are not always best served by maintaining contact with both parents, and it is a little absurd to claim otherwise. Notice here that it is this Labour government's attempted implementation of bad Tory law that is attacked, not the bad Tory law itself.

The most telling statement Fathers4Justice make, though, is when discussing the alleged ill-effects of the current child support system. It is worth quoting in full:

What sort of legacy is left behind as a result of the policies of the LCD?
The legacy of the family breakdown and the fragmentation of parent/child relationships is all around us. Teenage crime, drug taking, truancy and general delinquency. The government recently said that it would hold parents responsible for their children's actions if they are involved in repeat offending, even to the extent of introducing a system of fining parents. Yet how do you hold a father responsible for a child he has been denied access to for 10 years by the policies of the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Family Courts?

The UK has the second highest rate of young offending in Western Europe. Is it coincidence that the explosion in young offending has happened under a government that is systematically denying thousands of children 'contact' with their fathers?

Children are growing up with multiple step fathers yet being denied access to their own dads. The tragic reality of this policy is that many fathers can see anyone else's kids except their own. All fathers are asking for is the rights as mum's new partner.

Does the LCD know what the outcomes for children have been since the introduction of the 1989 Children Act? Sadly, the answer is no. In fact up until very recently the LCD kept no records on either the short term or long term outcomes for children. We have no way of knowing how children who have been 'processed' through the family law system have faired.

This is a direct attack on single mothers, and a firm restatement of the conservative adage that only proper, two-parent families can be trusted to raise children; or, failing that, kids without fathers become badly-adjusted monsters. Like so much rhetoric on the Right, it plays on a perceived epidemic of crime and delinquency. Again, see how directly the Labour government - rather than the Tory law it works from - is criticised for provoking an "explosion" in young offending; to answer their rhetorical question, of course it is a coincidence. There is no reliably demonstrated link between single-parent families and crime, as the F4J rather amusingly admits in the last paragraph: "We have no way of knowing how children who have been 'processed' through the family courts have fared." F4J rely, instead, on blind prejudice.

With this background, it was not a great surprise to read yesterday that Fathers4Justice have reacted furiously to a BBC documentary about themselves. The film, which has still to be aired, alleges that numerous F4J activists have been denied access to their children because of their histories of abusive and violent behaviour, and features anonymous interviews with the former partners of F4J protestors. F4J, as would be expected, have complained loudly, It is their grounds for doing so that cause concern. Rather than deny any of the allegations, Matthew O'Connor, "founder of Fathers4Justice" and frequent spokesman for the group, has claimed Fiona Bruce, presenter of the documentary, is "biased":

Fathers4Justice has threatened to lodge a formal complaint against the BBC as soon as the programme is broadcast, arguing that Bruce's endorsement for campaigns run by the domestic violence charity Women's Aid mean the programme will be biased.

'My gut feeling is Fiona made it a programme about her views to do with domestic violence. I can't see how they can say she's impartial,' said Matthew O'Connor, founder of Fathers4Justice.

Bruce's "views on domestic violence" are presumably the same as the rest of us, and of her producer, who robustly defended the programme:

'Fiona Bruce has no position on this personally or any official position with any charity or campaigning body working in this area - other, of course, than the position that domestic violence is a bad thing, which the BBC does not think is controversial,'

Or so you would hope. Yet in the strange world of Fathers 4 Justice, to endorse a charity working with victims of domestic violence is to reveal - what? - your "anti-father" bias? Your role in the great PC conspiracy? More than just the spectacle of middle-aged men in tights, this is genuinely disturbing stuff.