There has now surely been quite enough maundering and hand-wringing about poor old Derek Conway and the so-called “family firm” which he employed in a largely non-executive capacity at Westminster. The usual rentagob moralists have been standing on the sidelines, complaining about how the Tory MP had exploited his privileged position, misused public funds and even, if you please, how he had “let down” his constituents.
Those of us in the family-values camp have been bewildered by this storm of moral outrage. The way we see it, there are some genuine positives to be taken from the story. Admittedly, one or two questions might be asked as regards Mr Conway’s methods but what his “crime” amounts to is, in the end, quite straightforward. He put his family first.
A good husband to his wife Colette, he has put more than £290,000 her way for secretarial work since 2001. As a father, he helped both his sons through university – a ruinously expensive business, as many parents know – by providing them with another £80,000 or so, in return for little or no effort on their part. More importantly, Henry and Freddie, who seem to be straightforward, fun-loving chaps, have been given an all-important lesson in life skills. The system is there to be used, their dad has shown them. With a bit of thought and creativity, there are all sorts of ways of getting something for nothing. It is this spirit of enterprise that has made Britain great.
Many of those vilified in the press – David Mellor, Jeffrey Archer, Jonathan Aitken and others – have been proud to push their family in front of the cameras to make the same point. Family loyalty supersedes other more trivial matters of ethics.
We in the family-values movement recognise that we need these positive role-models more than ever. With the evils of cohabitation, infidelity and divorce all around us, the family unit is under siege as never before. Some aggressive, proactive marketing is needed.
The relatively new phenomenon of domestic exhibitionism reveals what can be achieved. Before a recent conference at Hull University called “Displaying Families”, the social scientist Julie Seymour explained how it works. “People of all kinds are consciously displaying their family because you can no longer assume by blood or by household who will belong to it,” she said.
Here apparently is the reason why celebrities increasingly like to be photographed with their children. Similarly, millions of people feel the need to do family things in the form of a public display , according to Dr Seymour. “It is increasingly activities, rather than kinship, that constitute being a family.”
For Mr Conway, the activity involved sharing his good fortune at being an MP with his family in a very practical, fiscal way. Others who believe that family values are important can promote them by a whole variety of small but telling acts of domestic exhibitionism.
For example, boasting about the achievements, however minor, of your children is an easy way of promoting the family unit. Group self-esteem is always important and by sprucing up the image of your own little ones, you are indirectly drawing attention to your own success as parents.
Holding hands in public is another painless act of intimate showing off. There were snickers when Bill and Hillary Clinton walked about hand in hand, and it was even suggested that they might not have been entirely sincere, but when it comes to display, feeling has nothing to do with it. The marketing message – we are a happy couple who enjoy a full, profound satisfaction in our lives together – is what matters.
Events which used to take place in private – a big birthday or an anniversary – should now be held in restaurant where strangers can look on. By displaying the apparent happiness of the unit you have created, you are advancing the cause of family values as surely as you do when you send out that Christmas round-robin letter detailing how well each member of the family has done in the past year.
Derek Conway has played his part in this great age of family exhibitionism. Now it is your turn.