David Cameron's reading to children speech: between the lines

The PM has revived this old chestnut to avoid addressing real questions, such as 'How can we redistribute wealth?'

I bristle whenever a politician makes a prescription for better, more hands-on parenting. At 7.30 on any given evening, am I in the Commons, dozing? Nope, I'm at home, with a bottle of milk in one hand and a corkscrew in the other. Already, I am a better parent than the whole damn lot of them. But to hear a prime minister preach about literacy – "try to read to your children," commanded David Cameron to parents at a Battersea primary school this week, "however busy you are in life" – takes an already irritating habit to a new peak.

Reading aloud is, like breastfeeding, ever the policy-maker's friend: they take all these cohort studies that show wealthy kids doing better than poor ones, and they ask themselves not "How shall we redistribute wealth?", but rather "How can we persuade the poor to replicate the behaviour of the wealthy?". Framed like that, it's easy. You just tell them; they ignore you; they fail to reap the benefits supplied by your superior parenting role-model, but now it's not your fault, it's their own. Job done.

A friend used to define middle class-ness as being able to read with the telly on, and it's true that I am middle class and I can do that, so, QED. I think the main function of reading to your children is to make them desperate to read for themselves so that they no longer have to listen to you (desperation forged in these years will never dissipate; it can only get stronger). I am way too conventional to test this theory and stop reading to my children: but the only way I can get them to go to sleep is to lie down next to them and make a noise like their favourite iPad app.


Zoe Williams

The GuardianTramp

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