By Paul Haslam
Smacking is back! Or at least it’s back in the news. For those not in the know, smacking was banned in the ’90s, but the law was deemed confusing and clarified in 2005. The law currently forbids smacking so hard as to leave a bruise or redden the skin (sensible enough until you realise, as pointed out by a comedian whose name I can’t remember, that black skin doesn’t redden). And there the issue lay dormant, until MP David Lammy’s comments recently that ‘smacking might have prevented the riots’.
This woulda-coulda-shoulda kind of thinking is as pointless as trying to convince a die-hard liberal parent that the occasional smack might not harm a child so much as they might think. However, Lammy’s comments have re-opened a tin of worms that was best left half-eaten and abandoned at the back of the fridge. In Britain we all seem to fall into one of two camps on this issue.
Camp one: It never did me any harm, and look at me now – I read the Daily Mail so I must be a fully balanced human!
Camp two: HOW could you even THINK about harming a CHILD? You must be a MONSTER to BEAT your own FLESH AND BLOOD (insert wacky constipated face here).
Without getting into this thorny issue – which, for the record, finds me tending towards the latter but acknowledging that very rarely, a symbolic smack MIGHT be the only way to get a message across – it seems that we might benefit more from approaching the riots from a less backward-looking perspective. We can all agree that nobody should wantonly hurt a child, and definitely that those that seem to enjoy it rather too much should be kept from doing so. So much, so unsurprising. But how many people think that smacking should be banned altogether? A poll on the Guardian (which is still running as of writing this) reveals that even 55% of that paper’s famously liberal readership thinks that smacking is ok. Will there be a ban on smacking? No, the UK wouldn’t accept it. Whether that’s evidence of our anachronistic attitudes is open to debate.
However, Lammy himself has been caught by a trap which it’s easy to be snagged by. In relating smacking to the riots, he’s revealed that he tends towards lazy thinking – ok if you’re expressing an opinion, less so if you’re involved in drafting policy. Because there is no way to prove that smacking by parents reduces, increases or acts neutrally on a child’s future propensity to violence or crime. The assumption that it increases discipline is just that – an assumption, and people have all manner of views, memories and anecdotes concerning it. With that in mind, and with the laws as they are – flawed, deeply, but functional and unlikely to change – what is the point of raising the Smacking Question?
Labour is the party which the naïve might expect to move away from these retrograde questions, and ask more meaningful ones like ‘what is the effect of eviscerating social support for all families while increasing support for financial institutions to the point of alienating us from the rest of Europe likely to be’? But as society swings to the right, Lammy exposes himself as someone with no new ideas – this, not a chronic lack of future spanking fetishists, is the most dire threat that we now face.
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