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Our weekly columnist Beatrix Campbell questions New Labour's attitude towards children's interests We move in to a new year clearer than ever about that faded flower, New Labour, once vaunted as light on ideology and heavy on pragmatism and joined-up governance.

Our weekly columnist Beatrix Campbell questions New Labour's attitude towards children's interests

We move in to a new year clearer than ever about that faded flower, New Labour, once vaunted as light on ideology and heavy on pragmatism and joined-up governance.

Its promise for a third Labour term in Government is to put childcare high on its list of priorities. But ask yourself if that election pledge makes this a pro-child Government.

Somehow that feels like an unsettling question without an obvious answer.

Although the ten-year strategy for childcare is unprecedented, it does not come as part of a programme for childhood and childcare, it does not touch the Government's approach to the protection of children's health and well-being, and it does not inform its approach to childcarers, to their working time, to women's wages, to childcare as a career, to law and order, housing or traffic.

New Labour just doesn't behave like a friend of children. Lest we forget, New Labour was founded on a dread of children. It saw them as virtual people, things to be patrolled and policed, trained and managed.

Sure Start was certainly an important innovation, but it was animated by law and order rather than a childcare strategy. Its success is testament to the commitment of the Sure Start staff.

But the election pledge expresses Labour's pragmatism: it sees children and childcare as key to the women's vote. Labour has always had a precarious relationship with women, and although women are the progressive gender on most issues, they don't necessarily identify with Labourism. Without women, however, Labour can't win.

The flakiness of the Government's pragmatism is palpable in its cheap and cheerless proposals for a Children's Commissioner in England.

It is evident, too, in its panicky response to the accused adults' movement that campaigns to discredit child protection professions. The Government has failed to stand up for children in adversity; it has refused to make it mandatory for professionals to act upon suspicions of child abuse.

This Government acts when children's interests converge with another interest - law and order, for example, or its own electoral needs.

That is why it is often difficult for those in the childcare community to make sense of the New Labour Government's limits, its dreads and enthusiasms. But this should not stop us going with the zeitgeist: we can enter 2005 confident in the knowledge that organising a society fit for children really is the big issue.

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