Skip to main content


There’s nothing regressive about helping families

What’s not to like? Bettmann/Getty

Political talk about family in Britan is stuck in a depressing loop, says Sebastian Milbank in The Critic. First a prominent person says the “most inoffensively obvious thing you have ever heard” – “we need to have more babies”, say, or “ideally, children should be brought up by their biological parents”. Then comes the anger. How dare a public figure say something so appalling? More babies? You must be trying to drag the country “back into the dark ages”. Think heterosexual families are the norm in society? You’re making “thinly-veiled anti-LGBTQ+ comments”, or “attacking single-parent families”.

I call it “whataboutmeism” – the idea that praising one thing must be a denunciation of “every other type of that thing”. It’s a deeply individualistic reaction – “why isn’t this about me?” – like a child throwing a tantrum because his brother was bought a toy and he wasn’t. It’s not enough to recognise non-traditional families as worthy of protection and toleration. No, any help for their traditional counterparts must be denounced as “regressive” and harmful to those advancing into the “sunlit uplands of polyamory”, childfree lifestyles, “chosen families” and so on, away from the “repressive and religiously-inflected realm of traditional matrimony”. It’s a “narrow and poisonous” worldview – one politicians would do well to ignore.