It could be you: Nick Clegg appeared to give away his favourite to take over the leadership. Photo: Getty
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Did Nick Clegg reveal his preferred successor in his speech?

Praise for Danny Alexander, but small digs at Tim Farron and Vince Cable.

Though this year saw a surprisingly chipper annual gathering for the Lib Dems, it wouldn’t have been Lib Dem party conference without some hearty leadership speculation. With Nick Clegg admitting he “won't go on forever”, and rumours of the potential rivals jostling for position, an overriding theme of this conference was who will end up being his successor.

Within the party and among Westminster commentators, it’s widely thought that if the Lib Dems lose more than half of their seats in the general election, as predicted in the polls, Clegg will have to stand down. Equally, if Labour were to attempt a pact with his party in the event of a hung parliament, it’s thought they will want a different Lib Dem leader to work with.

Some elements of Clegg’s keynote speech to party conference this afternoon suggested some thoughts about his successor were also playing on his mind. He praised a couple of the supposed leadership hopefuls: Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and Energy Secretary Ed Davey. However, he only tossed off-the-cuff playful digs at the two favourites: party president Tim Farron and Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Of Alexander, he said:

Danny set it all out on Sunday: Eliminating the deficit in the first three years of the next parliament, and then bringing debt down steadily and sustainably. Running a budget that is balanced overall and - this is crucial - doing it in a way that allows us to invest in Britain's creaking infrastructure too . . .

In 2012 - I'll never forget this - Danny and I said: let's go further and faster to cut people's income tax. It's possible now, so why wait? George Osborne turned to me and said: I don't want to deliver a Liberal Democrat Budget.

Of Davey, he said:

Both parties in this Government promised we would stick to our green commitments, but it has taken constant pressure from the Liberal Democrats - not least Ed Davey - to hold the Tories to their word. And I can tell you now that a sustainable environment will remain at the heart of our vision for Britain's future - it's not green crap to us.

He also praised another potential hopeful, the health minister Norman Lamb, saying he deserved “a medal” for the “tireless work” he’s done on mental healthcare in government.

However, when it came to Farron – the cheery frontrunner for the party’s next leader – he simply told a joke about his uncanny impression of the Ukip leader when helping Clegg rehearse for the television debates earlier this year. He said the party president had been “so convincingly brilliant at copying Nigel Farage” it was "terrifying". He also noted that Farron was “even wearing a purple tie”.

Then there was a little dig at Cable. Urging his party not to hold back on their attacks on the Conservatives, Clegg referred to the Business Secretary’s reputation for disliking the Tories and therefore being an awkward coalition minister: “Vince, you’ve got to start telling us what you really think about the Tories”.

Although such jokes and asides never feature in the text of party conference speeches pre-briefed to the press, it is still significant that there weren’t references in either the original text or the delivered version to the work Cable has done in government, or Farron has done for the party. All this points to Alexander – a more likely candidate than Davey, who is not as popular or influential in the party – being Clegg’s preferred successor.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Gender pay gap: women do not choose to be paid less than men

Care work isn’t going anywhere – and it’s about time we recognised which half of the population is doing it, unpaid.

Is it just me, or does Mansplain The Pay Gap Day get earlier every year? It’s not even November and already men up and down the land are hard at work responding to the latest so-called “research” suggesting that women suffer discrimination when it comes to promotions and pay. 

Poor men. It must be a thankless task, having to do this year in, year out, while women continue to feel hard done to on the basis of entirely misleading statistics. Yes, women may earn an average of 18 per cent less than men. Yes, male managers may be 40 per cent more likely than female managers to be promoted. Yes, the difference in earnings between men and women may balloon once children are born. But let’s be honest, this isn’t about discrimination. It’s all about choice.

Listen, for instance, to Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs:

“When people make the decision to go part time, either for familial reasons or to gain a better work-life balance, this can impact further career opportunities but it is a choice made by the individual - men and women alike.”

Women can hardly expect to be earning the same as men if we’re not putting in the same number of hours, can we? As Tory MP Philip Davies has said: “feminist zealots really do want women to have their cake and eat it.” Since we’re far more likely than men to work part-time and/or to take time off to care for others, it makes perfect sense for us to be earning less.

After all, it’s not as though the decisions we make are influenced by anything other than innate individual preferences, arising from deep within our pink, fluffy brains. And it’s not as though the tasks we are doing outside of the traditional workplace have any broader social, cultural or economic value whatsoever.

To listen to the likes of Littlewood and Davies, you’d think that the feminist argument regarding equal pay started and ended with “horrible men are paying us less to do the same jobs because they’re mean”. I mean, I think it’s clear that many of them are doing exactly that, but as others have been saying, repeatedly, it’s a bit more complicated than that. The thing our poor mansplainers tend to miss is that there is a problem in how we are defining work that is economically valuable in the first place. Women will never gain equal pay as long as value is ascribed in accordance with a view of the world which sees men as the default humans.

As Katrine Marçal puts it in Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, “in the same way that there is a ‘second sex’, there is a ‘second economy’”:

“The work that is traditionally carried out by men is what counts. It defines the economic world view. Women’s work is ‘the other’. Everything that he doesn’t do but that he is dependent on so he can do what he does.”

By which Marçal means cooking, cleaning, nursing, caring – the domestic tasks which used to be referred to as “housework” before we decided that was sexist. Terms such as “housework” belong to an era when women were forced to do all the domestic tasks by evil men who told them it was their principal role in life. It’s not like that now, at least not as far as our mansplaining economists are concerned. Nowadays when women do all the domestic tasks it’s because they’ve chosen “to gain a better work-life balance.” Honestly. We can’t get enough of those unpaid hours spent in immaculate homes with smiling, clean, obedient children and healthy, Werther’s Original-style elderly relatives. It’s not as though we’re up to our elbows in the same old shit as before. Thanks to the great gods Empowerment and Choice, those turds have been polished out of existence. And it’s not as though reproductive coercion, male violence, class, geographic location, social conditioning or cultural pressures continue to influence our empowered choices in any way whatsoever. We make all our decisions in a vacuum (a Dyson, naturally).

Sadly, I think this is what many men genuinely believe. It’s what they must tell themselves, after all, in order to avoid feeling horribly ashamed at the way in which half the world’s population continues to exploit the bodies and labour of the other half. The gender pay gap is seen as something which has evolved naturally because – as Marçal writes – “the job market is still largely defined by the idea that humans are bodiless, sexless, profit-seeking individuals without family or context”. If women “choose” to behave as though this is not the case, well, that’s their look-out (that the economy as a whole benefits from such behaviour since it means workers/consumers continue to be born and kept alive is just a happy coincidence).

I am not for one moment suggesting that women should therefore be “liberated” to make the same choices as men do. Rather, men should face the same restrictions and be expected to meet the same obligations as women. Care work isn’t going anywhere. There will always be people who are too young, too old or too sick to take care of themselves. Rebranding  this work the “life” side of the great “work-life balance” isn’t fooling anyone.

So I’m sorry, men. Your valiant efforts in mansplaining the gender pay gap have been noted. What a tough job it must be. But next time, why not change a few nappies, wash a few dishes and mop up a few pools of vomit instead? Go on, live a little. You’ve earned it. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.