Cherie will just have to hold on a bit under new labour

`Only the very rich will be able to take advantage of fathers' new rights to paternity leave'

THIS WEEK new paternity rights that entitle parents to 13 weeks' leave after their children are born became law. Because the leave is unpaid, there is a risk that only the very rich will be able to afford it, leaving their newborn baby with a Croatian teenager while they have a month's skiing followed by two months in the Maldives. But clearly it is a big step in the right direction. Now men cannot be sacked for taking time off work to be with their newborn babies. "Damn!" they'll all be thinking. "Now I'll have to come up with another excuse."

The rights came into effect yesterday, with the bizarre consequence that parents of any baby born before midnight on Tuesday were not eligible. In labour wards up and down the land you could hear midwives shouting: "Don't push!" or "OK, the baby's head is out. Now, could you just hang on like that for another 47 minutes?" In the case of twins born either side of midnight, I suppose the parents get the statutory 13 weeks' leave. But to stay within the spirit of the law, they should make an effort not to bond with the older one.

The legislation is part of the Government's very laudable plan to get fathers more involved with the care of their newborn children. But the question that is on everyone's lips at Westminster is: will the man who made this legislation possible take advantage of it himself?

Of course, the Prime Minister will be there at the birth of his fourth child, encouraging Cherie to "meet the challenge of the new millennium". But then what? Will he go back to work himself?

Most men like to make out that their job is really important, and as Prime Minister, Tony Blair does possibly have a case. But he would be contradicting all the Government's messages about parenting if he did not at least take some time off work. It is not as if he does not have complete confidence in his deputy, John Prescott, to take on more responsibility than he has at the moment. Ahem.

What will make it harder for Mr Blair is that not only does he work at home, but even if he did try to take some time off, ministers would still keep coming round to his house, stepping over the buggy in the hallway to have meetings in the Cabinet Room. How is Tony supposed to ignore that? With the baby in his arms, he would put his ear to the door and hear all the Old Labour tendencies resurfacing without him.

"So that's agreed then, we'll renationalise all the public utilities without compensation to shareholders" - and then Tony will tentatively put his head around the door.

"Oh, hi, Tony!"

"Sorry, did I hear something about re-nationalisation?"

"Oh, don't worry about any of that. You carry on looking after the baby. See you in 13 weeks."

"Right, um. Nothing I can help with?"

"Tony, I think that Babygro looks like it needs changing."

The other alternative is for Tony to take the baby to work with him. Nothing could be more disarming than a party leader standing at the dispatch box with a little baby wriggling in his arms.

The angry hostility of Prime Minister's Questions would evaporate overnight.

"Madam Speaker, is the Prime Minister aware that his new baby is really, really lovely and looks just like his dad?"

"Madam Speaker, this may be the case, but I think that if the honourable members opposite were to look at the photos of our babies born under the last Conservative government, they would find they looked much more like their mum."

When there is a baby present, it completely takes over as the focus of attention in the room. A shadow minister might deliver the most damning speech on government policy, with shocking statistics, brilliant quotes and a blistering personal attack on the Prime Minister. But while the baby is trying to grab Madam Speaker's little finger, no one is going to take the slightest bit of notice. With a bit of training it could probably even learn to be sick every time John Redwood starts speaking.

Foreign heads of state will have to meet the Prime Minister when he is free, namely at half-past three in the morning when it is his turn to get up. The weekly audience with the Queen may lose some of its formality. "Can you just take that dirty nappy out to the wheelie-bin please, your Majesty. Baby's just gone and wee-ed all over the changing mat." Frankly it's very hard seeing the Prime Minister doing any of this. He cannot just give up work, yet he cannot be seen not to set an example. So there can be only one foreseeable outcome.

Although pregnancies are generally 40 weeks long, soon we can expect an announcement that the Government cannot find the time for the birth of the baby during the next parliamentary session, and that it cannot be delivered this side of the general election. It may seem a bit hard on Cherie, but the homeless and the unemployed have had to learn to wait for Labour promises to be delivered. Cherie will just have to hold on as well. Women used to go into labour after nine months. New labour takes a little bit longer.

John O'Farrell is the author of `Things Can Only Get Better' (Black Swan, pounds 6.99)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?