The scramble to win mothers' votes led to 2010 being dubbed the "Mumsnet election", with political parties promising policies on childcare and schools intended to appeal to working women. Now, a shadow minister has attacked the "lazy assumption" that only women are interested in these issues, and said Westminster has failed to keep pace with changing society to recognise the increasingly hands-on role of fathers.
Alison McGovern, the new Shadow Minister for Children and Families, said she wanted to change the way in which childcare is seen as a women's issue, because fathers are just as concerned about the pressures on budget and time as mothers. The Wirral South MP said the change was evident at the school gate, where both mothers and fathers wait to collect children, unlike a decade ago.
She criticised the "lazy assumption" that all women had an "inbuilt interest in small children", and the exclusion of fathers from the political debate, adding that Labour's manifesto would take into account the father's role, in what will inevitably be dubbed a "dadifesto".
Labour has already pledged to extend free childcare for three and four-year-olds from 15 to 25 hours a week, but Ms McGovern said she wanted to hear from parents about what else could be done. "It bears saying that not every woman is interested in small children and childcare, but it does no service at all to childcare to wedge it into a pigeonhole of being a women's issue," Ms McGovern said.
"Now more than ever the next generation of dads are looking at the costs they pay and the impact on family income. We don't talk about it in those terms. I am struck how many dads have got in touch with me about this. Childcare is just as much an issue for men.
"Some suggest that men who go part-time and do childcare have a lack of ambition. But we need to create a space where dads can be proud of being dads."
The success of the parenting website Mumsnet in the run-up to the 2010 election helped childcare become a priority in party manifestos. All party leaders, including the then prime minister Gordon Brown, who got caught up in a row over which biscuit he preferred, took part in a Mumsnet webchat. There is no large-scale equivalent of Mumsnet for fathers. Ms McGovern said she wanted to recruit some dad MPs as part of her campaign to raise the issue.
Ms McGovern added: "There is something lacking there, a shortage of visible role models. There is no shortage of role models for women. [Although] you have the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister, they are all dads and they talk about it a lot.
"Our 25-hour policy is tackling the cost issue and it is for dads and mums. A lot of families up and down the country are looking at their bank balances. There is a new generation of families out there where dads are more and more taking responsibility and seeing childcare as an issue in a way they haven't before.
"If you say to people with older children, what does it look like round the school gate, 10 years ago you would have mainly mums, now it's really mixed. This change has happened in society and it has passed us by in politics. "Reuse content