Interviewed in today’s Independent on Sunday, Nick Clegg has called for 65,000 nursery workers to be recruited as part of his social mobility drive:
“Every parent wants their child to do better than they did, and every parent wants their child to fulfil their potential,” he said.
State intervention to teach children as young as two will form the centrepiece of his “obsession” which will see childcare made the coalition’s highest priority social policy. Next month he will make a major announcement on his “passion” for shared parental leave and for extending the rights of flexible working.
And he pledged to take on those with the “sepia-tinted 1950s” opinion that mothers should not work, after attacks on his City lawyer wife Miriam, claiming her critics are as “weird” as homophobes…
Early intervention in the lives of children is “one of the most radical things we are doing and don’t shout about enough”, he said.
From next year, 260,000 children from the poorest 40 per cent of families in England will receive 15 hours of free childcare during term time, in a move costing £650m.
He expands on this point in the interview itself:
“If you scratch below the surface and ask what really makes me tick, it’s the liberalism of trying to promote freedom and opportunity. Promoting social mobility is one of the keys to that.”
The coalition is now “shovelling in resources to younger children on a scale that has not happened, ever”. He becomes almost emotional, banging the table and fixing me with a hard stare. He has been “very affected” by research on the “profound level of social segregation” in the UK. “Despite all the money and good intentions under Labour, when times were good, the needle of social mobility didn’t twitch. It’s because we didn’t start early enough.”
There are those who fear an arms race for ever younger intervention. But Clegg is determined; childhood policy is now an “obsession” and the Government’s top social policy priority. “I say this as a young dad seeing children going into primary school: I don’t think we should underestimate the formative effect on a child of those first years in primary school.”
And in the quickfire question section:
Yes Minister or the Thick Of It? The Thick of It. But there is nowhere near as much effing and blinding in the Liberal Democrat press office.