Patronising paternalism about parental leave

Two articles in today’s Times (18 January 2011) remind me yet again why there is so far still for women in the UK to go.  

In one article, ‘Extra paternity pay is needed to free women, says Clegg’, we learn that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced new parental leave proposals at the launch yesterday of a Demos report, The Home Front.  He labelled the current system as ‘Edwardian’ and said it encourages women to stay at home in the months after childbirth – rules which ‘patronise women and marginalise men’

Clegg’s new proposals for additional, flexible paternity leave, to be held off until 2015 to allow for consultation (or maybe over-riding reactionary opposition?), will he says leave ‘UK plc benefitting from a happier, more flexible workforce‘. 

The DPM also acknowledges the achievement of Labour ex-Minister Harriet Harman, whose proposals for parental leave  – despite claims by Theresa May, now Home Secretary, that these would be ‘quietly dropped‘ before the 2010 Election – will come into force this April, 2011.  But where are the women under the ConDem coalition?

We currently have one of the least women-influenced Governments in recent history.  Even a LibDem Minister, Lynne Featherstone, complained that there were only four women (including Theresa May) appointed to David Cameron’s cabinet.

Doesn’t this reversal in fact reflect the ‘Edwardian’ views which Clegg identifies?  When the Government is so deeply entrenched in sexism, with barely a progressive woman in view, how can we believe claims to want forward-looking change in the social climate?

The feet-dragging on parental leave, in contrast to the Government’s ‘de-governance’ hyperaction in dismantling the welfare state, looks very much like insincerity and inaction from where I stand.  And the focus on the workforce (not the children) suggests a failure to perceive, or to promote, human connectivity. 

Clegg’s rationale, claiming to confront ‘a view of life in which mothers stay at home and fathers are the only breadwinners‘ is based on long-past (but sadly now resurfacing) stereotypes. He plays to a gallery which sees the world very differently from me, as a seasoned campaigner for decent parental leave.

Which takes us to the second Times article spotted today, ‘Miliband softens opposition to a pact with ‘nice guy’ Clegg’. 

This piece reports on the Labour leader’s efforts to reach out to the Liberal Democrats.  I would however need some persuading in light of the above context that the DPM can be described as ‘perfectly nice’

Attempts by Ed Miliband to make common cause between Labour and perhaps decent LibDems, fundamentally uneasy about the liaison into which they have been propelled by Clegg, are OK. 

Informed political progressives certainly need to find common ground, and soon. But not all LibDems are nice.  And how about some positive female role models?

Being told by the neo-patrician guard what sets women ‘free’?   I don’t think so.

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