Honest Blair takes a beating

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 June, 1996, 12:00am

I have to admit it, I'm embarrassed at losing my temper. My kids burst in on a business phone call one evening this week and started to fight. You don't say to someone who doesn't particularly want to talk anyway 'hold on a minute while I sort out my daughters' problems'.

So I persevered with the phone call all the while waving at the two to stop. They didn't.

Net result - I exploded. One accepted she was wrong. The other ran away and locked herself in her bedroom while I charged after her. She protested her innocence which made my anger even worse.

I held back from smacking them knowing I was too angry. Now I'm mad at myself for losing my temper.

But imagine poor Tony Blair, the normally politically correct British Labour leader, maybe soon to be prime minister.

He admitted the politically unthinkable in a magazine article in liberal Britain this week. Ouch . . . he admitted smacking his children.

Alarm bells rang at Labour's headquarters. It was as if Li Peng had admitted to being a closet western democrat, Helmut Kohl an anorexic, Bill Clinton a homosexual.

Mr Blair could have dodged the question. Instead quite deliberately he took it head on.

'When they were little I smacked them occasionally if they were really naughty or did something nasty to another child,' he said of his three children.

Each time he felt remorse. 'I always regretted it because there are lots of ways of disciplining a child and I don't believe that belting them is the best one.' He added: 'I was caned as a schoolboy and it probably did me no harm.

'There is a clear dividing line between administering discipline on the one hand and violence on the other which most parents understand perfectly well. The important point is to discipline your children, because they must realise that there are some things they can't do.' Shock, horror, said many. Labour left-wingers had already been publicly berated for making their views clear when Mr Blair decided to send his 12-year-old son to what is known as a grant-maintained school, a school deliberately operating what is seen by some as an elitist policy brought in by the Tory government. To the left-wingers - who never trusted his middle class, indeed middle-of-the-road compromise style anyway - he had gone too far.

Mr Blair's office has been inundated with calls from angry children's organisations, most expressing their horror.

But there is every difference between smacking a child and violent abuse. No doubt many parents - most, perhaps - smack their children at some time. Most of them feel pretty awful about it when they do and such a form of punishment only has effect through its rarity.

Nobody likes to hurt someone they love and arguably - despite maxims like 'spare the rod and spoil the child' - smacking rarely solves anything.

Yet it would be pompous to say that smacking is never justified; sometimes it is a way of preventing further violence by one child to another in a situation where rationality between them does not exist.

It can also be the full final demonstration of parental anger. That does not make smacking a good thing but it does help put it into context.

Mr Blair has been getting a grey image of late and many of his own MPs will see this as another moral blot on his character. But he dared to discuss what for many is the undiscussable, he talked of family values and the need to put checks on children's behaviour.

I think it has enhanced Mr Blair's reputation with voters. Much rather someone who speaks up for what he really stands for than drifts with the moral tide.