With politicians talking about paternity policies this week working dads must cash in their political capital
I don’t like to go on about my book (I do really) but in Dads Don’t Babysit I wrote that “male voices carry in the corridors of power”.
For evidence of that look at the latest goings on in the Conservative party.
Most eye-catchingly came Theresa May’s proposal to extend paternity leave from two to 12 weeks. That would be made up of four weeks paid at 90% of salary followed by an optional two months paid at the lower statutory rate of just shy of £150 per week.
She wants a legacy from her time in Number 10 beyond going down in history as the PM who was rubbish at Brexit. She clearly thinks paternity policy is something that will resonate through the ages.
And she’s not the only one. The Conservatives vice chair for women Helen Whateley wrote to all the contenders for the leadership while there was still five men in the running asking what they’d do for gender equality.
Rory Stewart and Jeremy Hunt both focussed on policies for men, and dads in particular, as means to make society more equal.
Stewart, now out of the race to be PM, said he’d educate boys about the need for equality in childcare. That’s a fantastic idea. Too often we raise boys without encouraging them to think about becoming a father one day and what sort of dad and partner they want to be. That’s even though the majority of them will have kids and it’ll be the biggest, most important event in their lifetime.
Jeremy Hunt in his response said he’d give new dads more time off. He made it to the final run-off but he’s going to lose the leadership election to Boris Johnson.
Now, Johnson’s shown little interest in gender issues. His suggestions to Whately are partly focussed on internal Conservative party policies to put up more female candidates (which is fine but ignores the fact that currently too often women are fielded in seats that they stand little chance of winning). Other than that it was some vague stuff about tackling the gender pay gap, inequality and discrimination. Dads don’t seem to reckon in his thinking.
There’s better news in Scotland where Nicola Sturgeon is in power and, unlike Theresa May, unlikely to be unseated anytime soon. She signed off proposals for two months of ‘daddy leave’ as part of a package of measures designed to make Scotland a beacon of gender equality. Trouble is it’s unclear she’s the powers to make that happen.
So essentially there’s been a lot of talk this week about dads and their rights. Actions remain some way off.
But that’s progress. Politicians are talking about paternity because they think it’ll win votes.
Dads need to press home that point.
We need to be vocal in welcoming all and any ideas to increase paternity rights.
And we need to ensure that government knows we want more.
Let’s start a bidding war for the ‘dad vote’.
Jo Swinson is favourite to win the Lib Dem leadership. She introduced Shared Parental Leave and has moved a number of wannabe laws aimed at extending and strengthening it.
The Labour party’s not entirely functional at the moment (they are not alone in that in the current political climate) but they are the party that first enacted paternity leave. There’s reason to believe that they’ll join the bidding.
Plenty of Tories are clearly already on board. Conservatives love family values. As dads want a bigger role in family life it’s easy to see why that fits with the party’s philosophy.
Boris Johnson may not be talking about paternity rights for his own reasons. He’s done a lot of paternity and not always with his actual wife at the time.
He’s focussed on Brexit. That too brings opportunities.
One of my mantras in the Brexit work that I do (Brexit podcasts are my side hustle) is that ‘there are more fathers than fishermen’. So why have the interests of the latter had plenty of airing in the Brexit debates but not the former?
Yes Brexit means the UK can roll back parental rights currently underwritten by Brussels. But it also means Westminster can go further if they want, if men demand it.
This week’s policy proposals have started a discussion about paternity rights. Let’s make our voices heard as working dads.