Magazine article The Spectator

I Want Three Years' Paternity Leave for My Children - Backdated

Magazine article The Spectator

I Want Three Years' Paternity Leave for My Children - Backdated

Article excerpt

I am presently mulling over the idea of taking the next three years off from this journalism lark and spending the time instead on 'paternity leave'. This is a new proposal by some Tory think tank so I am assuming that a) Cameron will win the next election and b) adopt the idea and c) have the grace to backdate it to the birth of my daughter, Emmeline, two years ago. Better still, he could backdate it to cover the birth of my two sons as well, thus giving me a total of nine years' paid leave, which should comfortably see me through until the old liver packs up.

The Tories have yet to fill in the fine detail, however, and some questions remain: do the three-year stretches run consecutively, as I have assumed above, or -- as in the case in most prison sentences these days -- concurrently? And do we actually have to look after the bloody children and prove that we have done so? What if we just ignored them apart from the occasional hefty clout across the skull? Also, what happens in the case of divorcees like me? Can we still claim the time off? And, thinking about it, doesn't the policy lack inclusiveness, penalising those who through no fault of their own cannot have children? Perhaps it would be fairer and simpler if we all got three years' paid leave every time we had sexual intercourse, or even attempted, unsuccessfully, to have sexual intercourse. Or asked nicely if we might have sexual intercourse.

This paternity leave idea, which has the distinctly agreeable whiff of Zac Goldsmith about it, is an example of what is usually called 'blue skies thinking'. There will be those, especially within the business community I suspect, who will think that it is the sort of blue skies occasioned by frozen methane crystals on the planet Gilgamesh somewhere in the Crab Nebula, so outlandish does it sound. But he is right, Zac (if it is Zac). Amid all this talk of what David Cameron must do in order to capture the imagination of a cynical and disillusioned electorate, there is one broad principle which is begging to be taken up by an aspirant government: identify an issue upon which the overwhelming majority of British people believe a gross injustice is being perpetrated and put it right. This is not a risk-free approach: the injustices exist not because the present government wishes them to but because -- for sometimes complex reasons, at other times for reasons of political correctness -- it feels unable or unwilling to address them.

One obvious example is the grotesque mismatch between the official concern afforded to the human rights of criminally minded immigrants and asylum seekers, illegal or otherwise, and the total lack of it to the people upon whom they inflict their mischief.

Another -- as Zac and the boys seem to have identified -- is the equally grotesque legal bias shown toward women in all matters pertaining to the bringing up of children: in the family courts, in the divorce settlements, through employment legislation. If you want an example of institutionalised sexism, then here it is.

Take one simple example -- the issue of maternity and paternity leave. What the Left would call 'progressive' legislation and a general softening of misogynist attitudes has seen the proportion of women working in Britain rise from somewhere around 30 per cent in the early 1970s to nearly 70 per cent today. …

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