Nick on paternity leave, Lib Dem poll ratings, and Lembit and Brian

by Stephen Tall on January 7, 2009

There’s an in-depth interview with Nick Clegg in today’s Telegraph – here’s a few highlights:

On his imminent fatherhood and paternity leave

Evangelical about the importance of parental leave, Mr Clegg and his party recently adopted a radical child care policy which would allow new fathers as much as nine months or more off work.

He himself plans to spend every minute of the current official entitlement away from the political vortex when the time comes … Wouldn’t an election spell the end of his plans to take proper paternity leave: the full two weeks off “wiping and cooing” as he puts it?

“Proper?” he splutters. “It’s only two weeks. It should be more. … We’re all agreed that one of the great crises in this country for children, particularly for boys, is a lack or absence of positive male role models. And we’ve got legislation that says you can take two weeks off when the baby’s barely aware of your existence. That’s not good enough.” Lib Dem policy is for parents to be given up to 19 months leave, split between the mother and the father; but could the leader of a political party really take months and months off?

“No, it would be really difficult for me,” Mr Clegg says, “But the problem is that no one feels entitled.

“I’m not going to be sanctimonious about this; people should make their own decisions. “I just feel that if dads don’t get involved with their kids early on in a meaningful way often they don’t remain engaged afterwards. I personally think two weeks is a pathetic amount of parenting.”

On the Lib Dems’ popularity

“Of course I’d like to be further ahead,” he admits. “As history tells us, when people are anxious about putting food on the table, a tank of petrol, paying their heating bills, people gravitate towards either the government of the day or to the loudest alternative. There’s a great risk we’re going to be really squeezed and I think we’ve confounded expectations massively by not being squeezed in the polls.

“Of course I’d like to have wall to wall coverage of Lib Dem economic policy. Of course I’m frustrated, but I think we’ve made the right judgements, we’re on the side of the vast majority of the British people who need help. Am I frustrated that we don’t get more recognition? Yes I am, but the last thing I do is pull my hair out about it. I am lucky enough to have become leader of a party which I genuinely think has got the best people in frontline positions, certainly the best ideas, and crucially is growing incredibly fast.”

On the celebrity of Lembit Opik and Brian Paddick

Mr Clegg admits he has spoken to both about their behaviour – and claims to be relaxed at their failure to take his advice. So, would he allow the Daily Sport [for which Lembit recently accepted the job of political columnist] into his home?

“No, I wouldn’t,” he says. “Am I uneasy about it? Yes. Do I think Lembit’s walking a tightrope? Yes I do. Equally, Lembit has a presence in parts of the public political debate that frankly very few politicians do. Does that incur risks? It does. The positive side of it is that you’re reaching people with a message they might not otherwise hear. The downside is clearly that you are either made to look as if … you’re sanctioning things that don’t reflect your views at all.

“I certainly wouldn’t go on I’m a Celebrity or stand in a tropical pool. Of course I wouldn’t. I’ve spoken to both of them. Neither of them have positions of national authority in my party. I lead a political party; I don’t lead a military operation. We are a liberal party in spirit and in name. There’s a long tradition of fairly eccentric individuals.”