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
Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable