It is not just home secretary David Blunkett who is fighting over the children. Last week’s pre-budget report from chancellor Gordon Brown effectively fired the starting gun on what looks likely to be a general election dominated by children and the votes of their working parents.
Brown and Margaret Hodge, the children’s minister, sketched out a 10-year strategy on childcare in a bid to make Labour the party of working parents. Their plans come on the back of the Tories’ own, but very different, proposals to help parents achieve an appropriate "work-life balance".
All these policy aspirations are very laudable – if not slightly embarrassing for the Government at a time when Blunkett is trying to strike a balance between his own private life and work. These policies are designed for the so-called "ordinary" voters, giving the main political parties a lift and making them seem down-to-earth and socially aware.
But the more important question is: what does this mean for employers and HR managers? Given that the main parties are now all apparently committed to giving staff more flexibility, regardless of which party wins the election, companies are going to have to adjust over the next few years to very different working practices.
Last month, Michael Howard stole a march on Tony Blair – albeit only for a few hours – by making his first major speech on childcare. He appeared to have deliberately picked the same day that the prime minister was due to unveil details of Labour’s package for working parents. It was seen as one of the rare moments when the Tory leader, who posed with young children at a school, had scuppered Blair on an issue that has always been regarded as a Labour stronghold.
But what exactly are the parties proposing?
Labour takes a hands-on approach, promising thousands of extra childcare places funded through general taxation to encourage more parents into work. Ministers boast that since 1997, they have created more than one million extra childcare places.
Blair is also promising more than 1,000 "children’s centres", so that there would be one in every community by 2010. These are drop-in centres where young (probably single) mums and dads can get training and skills while their kids are getting a pre-school education.