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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK
Tories push for marriage support
Iain Duncan Smith and his wife, Betsy
Iain Duncan Smith has been married 20 years
Politicians should not be afraid of promoting marriage despite problems in their own relationships, according to Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.

Mr Duncan Smith argued the case for marriage in a speech hailing the family as the most fundamental institution in any free society.

Some politicians avoid using the 'M' word as if it was some kind of social expletive

Iain Duncan Smith
Politicians had the same problems in their relationships as everybody else, said Mr Duncan Smith.

But that did not mean they should steer clear of pressing for more help for families through the tax and benefits system, he argued.

Tax discrimination

The Tory leader, who is on a national tour as he tries to cultivate a more caring image for his party, gave the William Wilberforce address in Tooting, south London on Monday evening.

He claimed the tax and benefits system was now weighted against the family and politicians had to tackle such discrimination.

"Some politicians are frightened of even talking about the family," continued Mr Duncan Smith.

Bridget Jones
Bridget Jones syndrome: Search for the right partner taking longer
"But marriage is not less valuable to children and society just because people often struggle to live up to the ideals of marriage.

"Politicians' relationships fail in the same way that relationships sadly fail in the rest of society."

Mr Duncan Smith stressed that failing to give help to married couples did not mean there was extra support for single parents.

Marriage hope

He built on a recent speech by shadow work and pensions secretary David Willetts.

Mr Willetts argued marriage was not dead, but instead many people were like Bridget Jones and taking longer to find the right partner.

On Thursday, Mr Duncan Smith said: "Conservatives cannot truly claim to be the party of aspiration if we do not support the popular aspiration to form lasting relationships."

Governments already gave help for people starting businesses, saving money, or studying for a career, he said.

But there was "inadequate" help for people wanting to raise children.

Family and society

The government could give resources to groups offering such help, he said.

Mr Duncan Smith praised other European countries which had created tax and benefit systems that recognised the social benefits of marriage.

Poll ratings
Labour: 43%
Conservative: 32%
Lib Dems: 20%
The Tories are continuing their efforts to distance themselves from Margaret Thatcher's comment that "there is no such thing as society".

Mr Duncan Smith said faith-based groups are an essential part of society, which had the family as its most basic unit.

He added: "The most fundamental institution of any free and sustainable society was the family.

"If vulnerable young people are ever to escape from the conveyor belt to crime, they need better parenting.

"If we are to maintain an educated workforce, children need to be raised in homes where learning is encouraged.

"If we are to renew community life, families must become strong enough to look beyond their own needs.

"As a society we must help families to flourish. But our society is not helping families."

'No poll comfort'

This month's Tory conference was expected by some commentators to give the party an opinion polls boost, particularly against the Liberal Democrats.

But an ICM poll for the Guardian suggested the Conservatives were down two points and Labour's lead up more than double over the past month.

The poll suggested support for Labour was 43%, up four points on last month, with the Tories on 32% and the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 20%.

ICM interviewed a random sample of 1,001 adults by telephone between 18 and 20 October.

Mr Duncan Smith has, however, stressed he knows the party still has much work to do before it is seen as an alternative party of government.

BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder assesses the Tory leader's first yearPath to power?
The verdict on Iain Duncan Smith's first year
See also:

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