This comment of Dave’s seems to have legs. It won’t come to anything, I’m sure (this being a generational problem in the sense that it can’t hope to change until a certain generation has obligingly died off), but it’s entering it’s second week.

Telegraph – Can Cameron win the father of all battles? By Charles Moore

David Cameron says: “We need to make it as socially unacceptable for fathers to avoid their responsibilities as drink-driving now is. As with drink-driving, it is a combination of government action and culture change that will make the difference.”

It is an interesting comparison. Drink-driving is indeed a good example of how social attitudes can change. Forty years ago, most people saw it as largely comic. Now we take it seriously.

If we know someone who has injured somebody while driving drunk, we think much the worse of him. We still tend to excuse our own marginal infractions of the law (“just the one”), but we share a culture of disapproval. If, for example, we are parents of student-age children, and we discover that they are drinking and driving, we do not laugh it off, or say: “Well, it’s up to you.” We tell them not to. If that doesn’t work, we try to grab the car keys.

Once upon a time – roughly until the period when we first started to get cross about drink-driving – we would have done the same about relationships. We would have told our daughter not to sleep with a man to whom she was not married.

If she had got pregnant by him, we would have regarded this as a moral and social disaster. Unless he were the most unutterable swine (and perhaps even then), we would have wanted him to marry her. If he had then left her, that, too, would have been a catastrophe – for her finances, but also for her standing in the world. By extension, it would have been a catastrophe for her child.

Nowadays, such a sequence of events is not uncommon – except that the bit about marriage is often not even contemplated – and we are not sure what to think. Few parents feel happy about it, I suspect, but most bite their lip and try to help deal with the consequences.

If they saw the absent father of their grandchild drinking a bottle of wine and then getting into a car with the baby in the booster seat, they would shout at him. But as they see him comprehensively ruining that child’s chances in life by running off, they do not know quite what to say.

They are conscious that, by expressing anger, they might well be upsetting their daughter’s sense of her autonomy, a concept which has now become more powerful than a sense of honour. So they might get an earful from her, as well as from the feckless man.

What Mr Cameron has noticed, though he does not want to use the word, is the power of stigma. Stigma is the harsh bit of the good thing which he strongly promotes – the strength of society rather than the strength of the state or the selfishness of the individual.

At Wheat & Weeds last night:

The weapons against vulgar behavior are strict parents, stern-eyed aunts, arched eyebrows and, as George Washington put it, “indignant frowning.”

Speak of the devil (in a conceptual way, not George Washington). Back to Mr Moore:

As with drink-driving, there would have to be a long-term commitment from those who govern us and educate us. For 40 years, the actual trend, though not always the rhetoric, of law and policy and public culture has been the other way. And the stigma has attached to those who have disagreed. If Mr Cameron is serious, the stigma has to be reversed.

Mmmph.