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
News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
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.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing