Keith Newbery: Why does a father need to be loafing around for months on end?

IS Nick Clegg well, do you think, or has all the pressure become a bit much for him?

What has happened to his political antenna? Has it broken or was it snatched by a group of disillusioned Lib Dems and shoved in a place where a good signal cannot always be guaranteed?

I pose these questions because Clegg’s idea of allowing fathers to take ten months’ paternity leave is the sort of idealistic nonsense he used to dream up before he was unexpectedly elevated into a position of national responsibility. Worse still, it is the kind of sappy notion likely to be supported by David Cameron, because the two of them are engaged in a fight to the death over who should be regarded as the champion of touchy-feely fatherhood.

In a further bid to throw British industry into more despair as it struggles to cope with awkward trading conditions, a diminishing market and an increasing prospect of interest rate rises this year, Clegg has come up with an added treat – extra time off for employees.

Parents will be invited to carve up these ten months in convenient chunks, thereby making it virtually impossible for small or medium-sized companies to deploy their resources and plan confidently for the future. And what about those people who don’t want or can’t have children?

Why should they be expected to subsidise the fertile and the opportunistic?

If this ludicrous proposition becomes law, having children could become one of the country’s few growth industries.

There will be plenty of couples around who will do the maths when it comes to parenthood and decide that by producing a child a year they will be able to work just two months in every 12 and live in subsidised comfort for the foreseeable future.

Maternity leave is essential, of course. Nobody can object to a mother spending as much time as possible with her baby in its formative months and even years.

But why does a father need to be loafing around for months on end?

I – and millions like me – managed to do our share of the night feeds, the nappy changes and all the less agreeable chores that come with parenthood.

And we did it without taking a form of early retirement.

THE next time you hear some screeching commentator laud over-paid, over-hyped sports performers as ‘heroes’ spare a thought for Warrant Officer Iain Martin.

In the heat, dust and hell of the Helmand province of Afghanistan, this bomb disposal expert spent hours on his belly making 12 explosive devices safe. It was a continuous operation that demanded exceptional skill and courage because no two bombs are the same and each was big enough to blow a truck off the road.

And he didn’t wear full body armour because it would have made him an obvious target for snipers.

Now that’s a hero.