Today’s papers make dreadful reading for anyone with an interest in modern, reformed conservatism. They are a reminder – if it were needed – that the Tory press is estranged from the Prime Minister. Mr Cameron has played his part in the breakdown of relations (his behaviour over press-regulation has hardly helped) but he is hardly the only guilty party.

Today is one of those days you look at the headlines and just wonder what decade it is. An Insult To Stay At Home Mothers screams the Mail. The Telegraph is only modestly more restrained: PM’s ‘slur’ on stay-at-home mothers. Good lord, you may think and wonder, what on earth Mr Cameron has done now? Perhaps he has branded stay-at-home mothers a collection of selfish, workshy misfits? So you take a squint at the detail and you see that, actually, the government has announced a plan for a childcare credit for some families in which both parents work. What an insult to people who will neither need nor therefore receive this bauble!

According to the Tory press this insults and punishes mothers who choose to look after their kids at home (or, I suppose, who have to do so because they cannot find work). This is as logical as saying Tom is ‘punished’ because he doesn’t receive a present on  Bobby’s birthday. And vice versa.

Good grief. Where and when are these people living? The Tory’s press’s evident preference – Tim Montgomerie is only a little more restrained – is for mothers to stay-at-home. That’s their prerogative but they should not be so surprised that politicians who need to win votes from women view these matters differently.

Indeed, it is hard to think of a more efficient way of losing the sympathies of a couple of a couple of million lower-to-middle middle-class women than suggesting, these days, that their proper place is always in the home. Sometimes all that stuff about the Tories having a problem with women voters seems very easy to explain.

This, for god’s sake, is 2013. No-one, I think, considers stay-at-home mums a problem. That’s their right. (In such cases there is a case for a transferrable tax allowance). But, blimey, making life a little easier for women who choose or have no choice but to work is no punishment for mums-at-home. It simply doesn’t effect them. In any case, when did Tories adopt this all must have prizes philosophy?

I am, mercifully, no expert in childcare and I suspect it would be more useful – and simpler – to lower costs by reducing the regulatory burden on childcare providers and thereby drive down the cost of childcare by expanding its provision. (Who knows, perhaps we could source half a million new child-carers from, say, Romania and Bulgaria?) This would be preferable to more tinkering of the kind announced this week.

Nevertheless, we are where we are and this measure – which seems likely to assist, eventually, as many as 2.5 million families – is hardly an outrage. Indeed, it’s the sort of thing people – perhaps erroneously – think government is actually for. It’s supposed to help a little bit when and where it can.

Most of all, broadly speaking, I think you’d struggle to find many people under the age of 40 who are appalled or outraged or betrayed by this, far less many who really feel insulted or punished. This may reflect my own selection biases of course but, really, I look at today’s Tory papers and wonder where and when these people are living and to whom they think the modern Tory party should be trying to appeal. Because, on the evidence of today’s papers, it sure ain’t middle-class (and metropolitan!) women.

Tags: british politics, Childcare, Newspapers, Tories, Women