The importance of family life



Two of my little treasures Eva and Jonah  in Court Hey Park after visiting the NationalWildflower Centre.  Whoops almost forgot my big treasure Erica!!

Yesterday I had a marvellous day with two of my three families. No, don’t get worried, I am not describing a bigamous situation! I believe that I am blessed to be part of a strong personal family. I have a wife a son, two step daughters, three grandchildren and another on the way in about two weeks’ time. Five weeks ago I went to a 70th birthday party for my big sister. I find it incredible to think I have a 70 year old sister. It was brought home to me this week when I received a letter telling me I could now apply for a winter fuel allowance!

I then have my Lib Dem family. People I have known for many, many years and whose opinion and judgement I trust. Like my personal family they would rally round and support me if I needed them to. Lastly I have my local government family. In this case members of all parties and none who I have worked alongside for many years and again whose judgement I would rely on and whose support I can count on.

I am in a family thinking mood because of what I did yesterday. At 10.00 a.m. my granddaughter Eva facetimed us. She was bored because her pregnant mum was ill so could she and Jonah come to play at Grandma/Grandpa’s house? As it happens Erica and I were in the area and 20 minutes later they were in the car on their way to us where we had a glorious few hours until with the ultimate thrill of all grandparents we took them home and dropped them off!

Later I went to a celebration at the Athenaeum to recognise that fact that the previous week former councillor and Lord Mayor, Frank Doran had received his MBE the week from Prince Charles. I have known Frank for more than 42 years when I first came to Liverpool. I well remember that in 1980, when the Liberals retook control of the council he and I were dubbed the muppets by Labour along with 5 other young liberal committee chairs. Three others were also there last night, Lord Alton, Lord Storey and Richard Pyne. David Croft was unable to attend and John Watton died some years ago. These are people I have fought for and fought alongside for some many years. We know each other’s thoughts and share each other’s concerns.

Later still I went to a Woolton Ward, ‘Thank You Party’ where I was able to propose a toast to Cllrs Mirna Juarez and Malcolm Kelly. They along with another returnee to the Council, Andrew Makinson, are also people I have now known for a long time. In their 30s and 40s they represent the next generation of liberals to take over the leadership of the Party in the next few years. Coming up behind them is a ‘babes’ generation of people like Joe Harmer and Leo Evans who will, I have no doubt, be joining the council in 2018. I felt like a Grandpa in the Lib Dem family last night.

These thoughts brought home to me a conversation that I had the previous day with the son of a former councillor who, again, I have known for many years. 20 years ago they adopted two children with some severe special needs. I tried to tell him how marvellous he and his wife were but he would have none of it. Of course being a parent had caused problems and frustrations to him and his wife. But just like every other parent he told me. And that is true – you take the rough with the smooth. The sleepless nights of young parenthood, the rewards of seeing children grow up and give back to your family life and society what they perforce took out as children.

But what of those children who have no such support mechanisms?

Let’s take two examples that have been in the news lately.

There was the terrible case of the three year old in Scotland who died bearing the recent marks of more than 30 injuries inflicted on him by his own parents. What was life like for that poor little mite? For him home was not the sanctuary that my grandchildren go back to but a hell of despair and despond. How can we know how he, or Baby Peter suffered? You might ask what sort of people those parents were. Loathsome creatures who could torture their own children but who may well have suffered in their turn at the hands of their own parents. There is no excuse for this sort of behaviour.

Then there are the children who have died in attempts to reach Europe by sea across the Mediterranean. Little bodies battered by the sea and finally at rest and at peace on a strange beach in a strange country they had been desperate to get to. You might ask what sort of parents they had who could possibly expose their children to such dangers and perils. Desperate parents is the answer. Parents who were fleeing war zones to find a place of safety for them and their families.

Of course these are just extreme examples of other children and wider problems. For every child who dies at the hands of a parent or family friend there are hundreds if not thousands who suffer poor lives with parents who don’t care at best or beat and threaten their children at worst. These are children who are likely to grow up with severe problems of their own and have lives of dependency on the state because they have never been taught better. But not all children born to bad conditions stay there some, given the right help and encouragement from school of friends or a church or just luck escape.

For every child that dies in the Mediterranean there are hundreds stuck in tented ghettoes in strange countries with no education and few prospects. These children are just desperate like your children and mine for a home, for a start in life from a few creature comforts. But some get through and can be given a de cent start in life.

Too often, in both cases it is easy to find a scapegoat. The favourite one for British kids are social workers. “It’s their fault”, we say, “what fools they are for not seeing and stopping the abuse. They should have known and done better”. For immigrant children there are a number of scapegoats. Irresponsible parents, the military, the Moslems, the EU, the UN. The most disgusting thing I have heard a politician say for years came from the mouth of the loathsome Donald Trump. He said, “I would look a Syrian Child in the eye and tell him to go home”. To what? A house blown out of existence, starvation and a sickly if not short existence?

I can’t go into all my conclusions and suggestions of what we should do in a blog like this. But I do have an abiding principle to put to you. These are not someone else’s problem – they are our problem. As Scrooge found out under the cloak of the Ghost of Christmas Present there lurked two children – want and despair who are mankind’s children.

I couldn’t look a Syrian Child in the eye and tell him to go home. I cannot turn away from the needs of those children. They are all mankind’s children and they are all, therefore, our children. It is a truism that our children are our future but their future can only be good and strong if we do things for them in our present.


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. . Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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