Cruddas's plan to give fathers paid leave for antenatal classes deserves support

Rather than dismissing the idea as another burden on business, Conservatives should recognise it as an attempt to strengthen the family.

One of the main aims of Labour's policy review is to address issues that have long been neglected by both of the main parties: the lack of housebuilding, the mental health crisis and the prohibitive cost of social care. Another example is the disproportionate burden borne by women in family life.

In his speech to Civitas last night, Jon Cruddas, the party's policy review co-ordinator, noted: "More and more women are taking on the role of breadwinner. Families thrive when there is a partnership and teamwork amongst adult relations. But there is a deep feeling of unfairness amongst women at the burden they have to shoulder. Too many have a triple shift of paid work, looking after the children and caring for an older relative."

He added: "Amongst men there is the sense of being excluded from domestic life. We need a new conversation about families and their relationships  that is jointly owned by women and men.

"We need to value father's family role as highly as his working role, and women's working role as highly as her domestic one."

With this aim in mind, one idea he floated was the introduction of paid leave for prospective fathers to attend "antenatal sessions and hospital appointments during pregnancy". This, he said, was an example of how Labour would make greater use of a "'whole family' approach to public services which assumes, where it is safe and appropriate, that a child needs a relationship with both parents."

I expect some on the libertarian wing of the Conservatives will charge Cruddas with seeking to further burden businesses, but others in the party will rightly recognise it as an attempt to support the institution they revere most: the family. While the Tories plan to waste £600m on a symbolic tax break for marriage, Labour is advancing policies that would make a genuine difference to people's lives.

Cruddas's "Blue Labour" agenda is an attempt to re-engage the small-c conservative voters who deserted Labour between 1997 and 2010 and, in many cases, stopped voting at all. He said: "They care about their families and work hard for a better life. The ethic of work is deeply held because it is about self-respect and self-reliance. They are responsible and look after their neighbourhoods. But they don't feel they get back what they deserve. Labour should be their natural home. But in May 2010 they didn't think that we understood their lives. They turned their backs on us and we suffered one of our worst ever defeats. That means necessary reflection within our policy review."

It is a strategic repositioning that the Conservatives should be wary of dismissing.

Labour's policy review co-ordinator Jon Cruddas addressed the think-tank Civitas last night. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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