As a young man many many years ago I thought the liberals stood between labour and the tories but in actual fact they are more extreme than either. The sooner they are condemned to history the better.The latest example of this radicalism is a speech given by Nick Clegg to a party conference on the issue of women. Clegg wants women to be "free to realise their potential". But what does this mean? Clegg has decided that people realise their potential by having an upper middle-class profession: by being a lawyer or doctor or journalist or politician.
Therefore, Clegg sees motherhood not positively as part of how women fulfil themselves, but negatively as a potential hindrance to a career in the higher professions.
And so Clegg complains that at the moment it is mostly women rather than men who take a year of maternity leave to be with their children. Taking a year to be with her newborn, complains Clegg, means a disruption to a woman's career:
It’s heartbreaking to watch women who feel forced to lower their ambitions for themselves. And it’s heartbreaking to see fathers missing out on being with their children.So Clegg has brought himself to believe that the traditional pattern of family life, in which a mother looks after her children whilst the father works to provide, is "absurd".
As a father, I find the outdated assumption that men should go out and work and women should stay at home and look after the children frankly absurd.
If Clegg is really so interested in the "absurd" perhaps he should consider the following:
i) It is absurd to assume that people realise their potential by being a lawyer or a politician or one of the other higher professions. In part, that's because 95% of the population will never be those things. So 95% of the population is excluded from ever realising their potential under Clegg's definition.
That Clegg's definition is absurd is brought out in the part of his speech where he talked about a visit he and his wife made to a girls' school in Ethiopia:
And despite the poverty, despite the conditions, the young girls we met there dreamed big. Every single one of them wanted to be an engineer, or a doctor, or a lawyer. One even said she wanted to be Prime Minister. I said I had no doubt she could achieve it.So even Ethiopian girls living in poverty are being brought up to believe that the realisation of their lives consists in becoming engineers or doctors or lawyers.
To think that girls like those Lynne and I met in Ethiopia might have their ambitions crushed just because they are girls – that they might die younger and live their lives in poverty and servitude – is devastating.
ii) If it really is the case that people realise their potential by becoming doctors or lawyers then why claim it is heartbreaking for men to miss out on being with their children?
We're being asked to cheer on the idea of women not taking any time off work to be with their children, but at the same time to think it heartbreaking if men don't take time off work to be with their children.
In fact, if Clegg is right about how people realise themselves, then nobody should look after children. Even if we give the job to childcare workers, that is a lower rather than an upper profession. So the people who do that job never get to realise who they are. Isn't that then a fundamental inequality in society?
iii) Clegg's view is therefore absurdly short-sighted. If we realise ourselves through a higher professional career, and if being a parent is an obstruction to be avoided, then people will no longer be as committed to raising the next generation.
It is already the case that the number of women reaching the age of 45 and remaining childless has doubled from about 10% to 20%.
I doubt, though, if Clegg will be worried about the effect of his beliefs on the future prospects of his nation. After all, he has openly rejected the idea of a national good, or for that matter any kind of common good. Clegg likes the idea of an atomised society as he believes it allows for a more self-defining life.