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Is Clegg right to offer flexible parental leave?

- Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wants to give parents the right to share and swap their statutory leave for looking after newborn babies and children. That’s good news for parents, although the new arrangements have to be knocked into shape after consultation with employers and won’t come into force until 2015. Clegg said in a speech on Monday to the Demos think tank that increasing flexibility over parental leave was a priority for him and for the Prime Minister David Cameron. Both have young families and like most fathers these days have taken time out from work following their new arrivals. At present mothers get up to a year’s statutory leave, while fathers only qualify for two weeks. Clegg wants to change that so that parents can divide up this time off as it suits them, even taking the leave at the same time if that is what they want. Unions say the proposals are long overdue, but employers are less keen. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said Clegg’s plan might be politically popular but it “fundamentally ignores the needs of business.” “How is an employer expected to plan and arrange cover with this fully-flexible system,” asked BCC director general David Frost. Have employers got a valid point? Or is it time for business to do more to ensure children see the most of both their parents in their earliest months. Tell us what you think.

BRITAIN/Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wants to give parents the right to share and swap their statutory leave for looking after newborn babies.

That’s good news for parents, although the new arrangements have to be knocked into shape after consultation with employers and won’t come into force until 2015.

Clegg said in a speech on Monday to the Demos think tank that increasing flexibility over parental leave was a priority for him and for Prime Minister David Cameron.  Both have young families and like most fathers these days have taken time out from work following their new arrivals.

At present mothers get up to a year’s statutory leave, including 39 weeks of pay, while fathers only qualify for two weeks’ of paid leave. Clegg wants to change that so that parents can divide up this time off as it suits them, even taking the leave at the same time if that is what they want.

Oldham could be shape of things to come

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As voters drifted towards polling stations on a damp winter’s night in Oldham East and Saddleworth, it was hard to find anyone bursting with good things to say about Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

Even some Lib Dems, who came so close to beating Labour in this marginal seat in May, seemed to be voting out of a sense of duty rather than conviction, hoping to limit the shame of defeat to a Labour party still struggling to assert itself in opposition.

This may hurt a little

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Britons are being prepared for the hardest of hard times. Prime Minister David Cameron has warned the public that they will feel the impact of deficit-cutting decisions for years and maybe even decades. Cameron justifies the pain by saying that doing nothing about debt would be disastrous and that Britain will come out of the other side as a stronger country.

His finance minister George Osborne and LibDem sidekick Danny Alexander were setting out plans on Tuesday for how to conduct this year’s spending review, with  unions, the public and the private sector asked to contribute ideas.

Michael Gove’s radical academies plan

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- Gove900The Conservatives’ promise to give parents money to run their own schools won all the headlines ahead of the election. But the coalition’s new education secretary Michael Gove is likely to achieve a much more  dramatic shakeup of education in England with his invitation to all schools to apply for academy status. It means schools opting out of local authority control and becoming independent, but state-funded, institutions. Originally reserved for the most poorly performing schools, Gove is now extending this privilege as a right to 2,600 top rated primary, secondary and special schools. Other schools can apply for the change, and Gove intends his renamed Department for Education to do all it can to help them. It turns back the clock on more than 140 years of local political oversight of school education in England, dating back to the Victorian school boards and the local education authorities that replaced them in the opening years of the last century. John Dunford, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, who has seen regular changes of education policy over the years, believes this time something significant is taking place. “I think it will come to be seen as one of the most radical pieces of legislation for a generation,” he told me. He sees a large number of England’s secondary schools signing up. For many, the clinching factor will be getting hold of the 10 to 15 percent of state funding that local authorities now retain to pay for shared services, which they will see as insurance against an expected tightening of budgets in coming years. Then again, secondary schools are far less dependent on local authority assistance than primary schools, which tend to me much smaller, and are not expected, even by Gove, to be rushing to change status. Concerns have been raised by many, including the Local Government Association, that England is heading for a two-tier education system that will neglect the most difficult and deprived children. But the three school leaders Gove invited to a journalists briefing on his plans dismissed these fears, saying it was the current system that worked against those most in need of extra help. Dan Moynihan, Chief Executive of the Harris Federation, which runs nine academies in South London, said no longer having to devote staff time to “endless local authority initiatives” meant teachers could focus on what they were meant to be doing – teaching. He said: “This kind of status for all schools in England is the beginning of an education revolution which has the potential to transform the life prospects of disadvantaged children across the country.”

Gove900

The Conservatives’ promise to give parents money to run their own schools won all the headlines ahead of the election. But the coalition’s new education secretary Michael Gove is likely to achieve a far more dramatic shake-up of education in England with his invitation to all schools to apply for academy status, given that parent-run schools are only likely to form, at most, a small part of the overall system.

Reality intrudes on new British political order

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cameron_cleggBritain’s new political order was on display in the House of Commons on Tuesday when Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg squeezed  happily between Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague  on the government front bench.

The house was packed and in an excited, start-of-term mood. Everything was going swimmingly, with former Conservative minister Peter Lilley cracking jokes as he gaves what is typically a light-hearted response to the Queen’s Speech.

New politics? Looks like more of the same to me

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When I interviewed David Cameron earlier this year after an event at Thomson Reuters in which he, George Osborne and Ken Clarke delivered their views on the economy under a “Vote For Change” banner, I suggested that watching three white, middle-aged men talking about what was good for Britain didn’t feel much like change to me. Cameron jokingly replied that Clarke, 69, would be flattered to be described as middle-aged.

The Conservative leader then shifted in his seat, sat up straight and talked seriously about all the hard work his party was doing to field more female and ethnic minority candidates. His new Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, talks repeatedly of a “new politics” and how this time politicians will do things differently.

Irish lesson for Clegg: get coalition right or face oblivion

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If the Irish experience of coalition politics is anything to go by, Nick Clegg risks a lot more than unpopularity if he strikes a half-baked coalition deal with the Conservative Party. He also faces electoral oblivion should he fail to win enough concessions and power to carry his grassroots supporters with him.

Ireland’s pro-business Progressive Democrats (PDs) — relatively loyal junior coalition partners in successive administrations led by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern — imploded at the last Irish general election, winning just two seats in parliament. They subsequently disbanded altogether.

Coalition talks – a Liberal Democrat explains

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David LawsTalks between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives about arrangements that might lead to the two parties forming the next government took place on Friday (May 7) and will continue on Saturday. Little is being said about the talks by either side, so it seems a good time to revisit a blog and video interview with the Lib Dems’ David Laws on the subject of coalitions I published last September from the party’s autumn conference. Laws is reported to be part of the Lib Dem team negotiating with the Conservatives. BBC’s Newsnight ran an extract from the video interview on Friday evening.

Here’s the article repeated below. The video is at the end:

A senior Liberal Democrat has lifted a lid on the murky world of coalition politics – a touchy subject for the party which last tasted national power in Britain in the brief Lib-Lab pact of the late 1970s.

from The Great Debate UK:

Fears of UK hung parliament may be overstated

-- The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own --

Fears of a huhugodixon-150x150ng parliament following the UK's general election may be overstated. With Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, Britain's third largest party, performing well in the first prime ministerial debate, sterling has received a mild knock. Investors do not like the uncertainty that goes with a hung parliament. While many European countries are used to coalition government, the UK is traditionally a two-party system - with government swinging between Labour and the Conservatives.

Ming, coalition plans and the election that never was

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Menzies Campbell at the Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Bournemouth, September 21, 2009. Picture: Tim Castle/Reuter

For many observers it’s the key question for the Liberal Democrats — who they would support in a hung parliament — Brown’s Labour or Cameron’s Tories?

But ask the people at the top of the party at their conference in Bournemouth (and I have) — Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, David Laws, even new party chief executive Chris Fox — and they all deny they are considering the issue, let alone discussing it.

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