Remember Gordon Brown’s accession to the premiership? Blairite ‘Cool Britannia’ was out. No more ‘celebrity politics’, no more courting the rich and famous, no more spin and glitz. Just hard work, honesty and dour Scottish prudence.
Fast forward a year and a bit and a Prime Minister desperately flailing around for some good news and what do we get? JK Rowling — worth £500m-plus — emptying £1m into the Labour Party.
A private act of conviction?
Er, not quite. The news of her generous donation to a party £18.5m in the red just happens to break as the Labour Party conference gets under way.
Her accompanying speech lambasts the Tories for daring to think that it might be a good idea to give married couples a tax break.
You see — cue violins and images of Dickensian poverty — Rowling used to be a single mum under the Tories in the early 1990s. But in her little homily, Rowling forgets to mention that she’s very good friends with Sarah Brown, the PM’s wife, and is quite pally with Gordon himself.
And if Rowling’s PR-ing away merrily, Gordon is returning the compliment in spades. Reacting to the (I’m sure) entirely unexpected good news, he burbles that Rowling is ‘one of the world’s greatest ever authors’. And, oh yes, that none of the money will be sucked into the gaping hole of party finances but would continue the good work.
We’ll leave posterity to work out Rowling’s place in the pantheon of literary greats but, really, promising to ringfence her donation makes no sense.
Does even Rowling believe this? No matter how the books are cooked, that million is going into the Labour Party account. Simple fact.
But Rowling’s sanctimoniousness takes the breath away.
After declaring her support for Gordon Brown’s policies, she continues: “David Cameron’s promise of tax perks for the married, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the Conservative government I experienced as a lone parent. It sends the message that the Conservatives still believe a childless, dual income, but married couple, is more deserving of a financial pat on the head than those struggling, as I once was, to keep their families afloat in difficult times.”
Perks? Financial pat on the head? More deserving? Has it never occurred to JK that they’ve actually earned the money in the first place?
Of course, she picks the example of the childless earning couple versus the salt-of-the-earth single mum, ‘struggling’ — always struggling — to keep her family ‘afloat’.
The image is of hedonistic couples blowing their cash on banana dacqueries while single mums are too busy doing embroidery throughout the night to earn an honest crust.
But what about another scenario, Ms Rowling? Forget about our ‘childless’ (and what sort of heinous crime is that?) couple. What about a working couple on the minimum wage?
According to some analysis of the figures, it takes them 115 working hours to achieve the same potential standard of living as a single parent claiming full benefits.
Is that fair?
If there is one thing we all know, in the great social welfare debate, we can all choose our examples.
And what precisely is wrong with married couples — who probably pay more of their way anyway — keeping a bit more of their own money and getting a (tiny) incentive not to get divorced and throw themselves — and their children — on the mercy of the state.
Grim and unromantic as it may be, child poverty is not caused by parents falling out of love.
Or even by evil child-hating Tories. It is caused by a two-income family suddenly becoming a one — or no — income family. Any incentive to make people think twice about getting divorced is surely a good thing.
Instead of shallowly sterotyping married people (and, of course, Wicked, Wicked Tories), maybe Rowling should also look at more difficult issues — absent fathers not paying their whack or, at best, paying a nominal fee towards their children’s upkeep.
It is a sad indictment but even in these CSA days the way things stand, sometimes divorce turns out to be a financial boon for fathers.
Is that fair, Ms Rowling?