Nick Clegg’s first leader’s letter hits my inbox

by Stephen Tall on November 4, 2012

The first of Nick Clegg’s new ‘Letter from the Leader’ series has been emailed to party members this morning. Here it is:

I want to start writing to you, as a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, regularly and more informally than I have in the past. I want to give you a bit more of an insight into what’s going on behind those Whitehall doors and how we, as Lib Dems, are dealing with the issues and challenges that come up.

An issue that gets raised again and again when I speak to people across the country is the question of good childcare – and how important it is not just to families but to our economy too. When you’ve got young kids, getting the right childcare matters enormously. Even if it’s just a babysitter for a few hours, you need to know you’re leaving your children with someone you trust and can rely on. But when it comes to finding a nursery, a childminder or a nanny, it can be a real nightmare.

For too many parents that’s first and foremost because of cost. I know so many mothers who’ve been really keen to get back to work after their year of maternity leave – until they’ve calculated the cost of a place at nursery. Add in the cost of travel to work and mums can find themselves effectively working full time for just a couple of pounds a week. It’s absurd.

In government we have already made important steps – introducing 15 hours free childcare for all three and four year olds. And from next year we are extending this to the poorest two year olds. Real achievements we can proud of. But only this week a report by the Resolution Foundation said that living standards will only rise for people on low and middle incomes if we support women to work. And recent research showed that two thirds of women with children under five say they’d work, or work more hours, if we got them more help with childcare. That shows how much more there is still to do.

Even mothers who do go back to work after their first child can find it impossible when it comes to the second child. Too often they just can’t make the sums add up, and even though they’d love to be out earning they find years go by before it makes financial sense. So by the time they can afford to go back to work, it’s a struggle to find a job and convince an employer they’ve still got what it takes.

Some families may decide that they want to share childcare between them, or one parent may stay at home to focus on bringing their children up. But no-one should be forced into that decision – it’s about giving parents choices.

Of course there’s no silver bullet. Everyone knows there isn’t much money to go around. And looking after small children is a difficult job which should be done by skilled people who know what they’re doing. Childcare isn’t something you can buy at bargain basement prices.

But I’m determined to make sure we do more, and do it better. I’ve got a simple objective in mind: I want every parent who wants to work to be able to – without seeing every penny of their wages disappear in childcare bills. And if we can find the money, we’ll try to make that possible. Through hugely increasing the tax threshold and introducing the pupil premium we have already ensured a powerful legacy for families from our contribution in government in this parliament. I would very much like to add improving childcare to that list too.

Thanks for reading. If there’s anything you particularly want me to update you on, please reply to this email.

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg

It reads well and is a good choice of topic — the cost of child-care is rising up the political agenda and will be a significant issue at the next general election. A few thoughts for future improvements:

1) Break up the text with sub-headings — 600+ words is quite a block of text not to have some signposts along the way;

2) Links to stories and campaigns the party is running. I know this letter is meant to be more personal in style, not a marketing schtick. But I’d actually like to know more about what the party’s doing in this area;

3) Some form of call to action — a way in which those who agree with Nick’s message can do something ourselves, whether that’s sign a petition, forward the email on to others, or whatever;

4) Make it easy to sign-up to the ‘Letter from the Leader’ – visit Nick’s website and there’s no way to do so, though I’m sure the letter would be of interest to many more people than party members;

5) Instead of ending a little half-heartedly ‘If there’s anything you particularly want me to update you on, please reply to this email’, how about a little more openness: ‘I want these letters to talk about the issues that matter to you. Please do let me know what you’d like the next one to address — just hit reply and tell me.’

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.