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

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 was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • paul barker 4th Nov '12 - 12:25pm

    Could you tell me how I get this email ? Iam a member & party HQ have my email so, if its supposed to go to members automatically it isnt.

  • David Evershed 5th Nov '12 - 10:30am

    Nick Clegg’s email has not come to me yet.

    The tone of all Lib Dem communictions should be more about listening than telling.

    I keep giving feedback on two topics:

    a) Lib Dems must be stronger about reversing the government’s annual budget deficit so that the accumulated debt starts falling sooner than 2019, and

    b) Lib Dems must start supporting a return to the European Economic Community that wa voted for in 1975 instead of promoting the European Union. Lib Dem MEPs will be decimated in the next European elections because they are out of step with their own members, the majority of whom are Eurosceptic.

  • If you are correct, David, that the majority of Lib Dem members are “eurosceptic” (do you mean anti-EU?) it is strange, really, in that support is written into the Constitutional preamble, and support for a “political Europe” has been a Liberal and Liberal Democrat position ever since I joined (1966, I think).

    In your point b) you seem to have accepted the rewriting of history that by voting to “stay in” in 1975, Britain was voting for a purely trading community. The arguments put at that time were very much “Do we stay with EFTA, the European Free Trade Area (a trading group of countries)?” versus “Do we join a larger group of countries, the EEC, with a wider political agenda?” I personally had no problem voting for the latter. We can hear the arguments of the Teddy Taylors and other antis who batted for the “stay with EFTA” side echoed in the UKIP arguments of today. There would have to be a political earthquake for the Lib Dems to renounce ambitions for political Europe.

  • Trefor Hunter 5th Nov '12 - 5:29pm

    Electronic mail is not instantaneous.
    General Comment: Don’t expect to be credited with anything we get done in Govt.
    How many time do you here when Tories are interviewed on TV when explaining a difficult point come back with … a Lib Dem achievement as if it were thanks to the conservatives.

  • Ben Jephcott 8th Nov '12 - 3:42pm

    I have raised with hq on a number of occasions that I and a number of other Lib Dems I know with perfectly ordinary email addresses do not receive Nick Clegg or other hq sourced all-member emails, though I would like them. I have been told several times by different IT people that my address is in the system and not tagged as excluded and there should be no problem – but the emails do not appear.

    My email address is the same yahoo account I have had for six years and they don’t seem to be in the spam folder. Curious.

    Ben Jephcott

  • Ben Jephcott 10th Nov '12 - 7:40pm

    I must add, following the above, that Nick’s second Letter from the Leader did arrive, so I’m back on the list!

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