Labour's women force Blair to back down on 'marriage is best'

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Tony Blair has been forced to water down his support for marriage as "the best model" for family life after a revolt by senior women in his party.

Tony Blair has been forced to water down his support for marriage as "the best model" for family life after a revolt by senior women in his party.

The Prime Minister was to publish a consultation paper on the family, designed to anchor the Government's family values credentials in the run-up to the election, applauding families based on marriage.

But the so-called "Blair babes" have rebelled. It is understood that a number of female Cabinet ministers, backed by prominent women MPs, warned Mr Blair and pro-marriage campaigners such as Education Secretary David Blunkett and Home Secretary Jack Straw that this could lead to the sort of embarrassment caused by John Major's ill-fated back to basics crusade.

The white paper, The Family, has been toned down and shies away from insisting that marriage is the "best model".

A senior Whitehall source told the Independent on Sunday: "An earlier draft of the paper did seek to promote marriage, but a lot of the women felt that wasn't the way to go. It was one step away from back to basics. Now we've made it clear we support all types of families without telling people that marriage is best."

It is thought that the women urging a more practical approach include women's minister Baroness Jay and education ministers Margaret Hodge and Baroness Hollis. They have the backing of other MPs, including former Social Security Secretary Harriet Harman and Rochdale MP Lorna Fitzsimons.

One opponent of the pro-marriage stance, who did not wish to be named, said: "I think there is not much disagreement about what is desirable. What is desirable is people who have planned their children, people who are happy together... but the question is, what is the relationship of public policy to this issue, is there a role for public policy and policy to say this is the best model?

"If you say this is the best you are, by definition, saying about the people who are not in that model: 'There is something wrong with your family,' and to their children: 'There is something wrong with you.'

"The Government is going on and on about marriage is best, and are by implication saying any other way is worse."

Critics of Mr Blair's attempts to promote marriage believe there is no evidence that children brought up by a married mother and father fare any better in life than those of single parents or separated and divorced couples.

In Britain today, four out of 10 marriages end in divorce, and 40 per cent of children are born outside wedlock.

But they are also worried that in a government where some members are divorced, gay, co-habiting and single, ministers could be accused of being a "bunch of hypocrites".

One female Labour MP said: "I don't think it's the job of government to tell people what to do when it comes to things like marriage."

Mr Blair has also been urged to step back from promoting marriage by Blairite guru Professor Anthony Giddens, who has urged the Government to reject the Daily Mail agenda on families.

In an interview with ePolitix.com, the politics website, to be put on the internet today, he said: "You need strong families, but they have to look a bit different from the past and you have to recognise that this must include single parents." He also said gay marriage now had to be a "matter for debate".

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