Making Parliament more parent-friendly

Stella Creasy is trying to drag Parliament into the modern age and make it more family-friendly so more women will consider going into politics.



Stella Creasy was in the news again last week after the procedure committee decided parents accompanied by babies are forbidden in the House of Commons. By chance, I saw her last week while I was at a meeting in Westminster, pushing her baby through a group of MPs.

The way the issue was covered in the news made it seem as if Creasy was arguing for women to be able to bring their children to work. I got asked to comment on this.

What it certainly did do was make visible people’s caring responsibilities at work, just as we saw during all those Zoom calls from home during the pandemic. And in a Parliament that seems to constantly deprioritise issues like childcare that is important.

Yet what is important is the context in which Creasy, who has launched a campaign to get more mums into politics, was making her point. And that context is that MPs – unless they are senior ministers – cannot get anyone to cover them for their maternity leave. The only way around this is for MPs on maternity leave to vote by proxy whereby other MPs vote on their behalf.

The other issue is that the way we do politics is not conducive to any kind of family life. Many MPs, of course, have to live away from home during the week in order to represent their constituents. There has been some progress on long hours in the past. In the 1980s and 1990s, over 25% of sitting days would extend beyond midnight, but in the year following the 2017 election, this only happened three times. Then there is the misogyny, abuse and threats women MPs seem to face disproportionately.

Surely there must be a way to make Parliament more attractive to women generally and particularly to parents? During the pandemic, MPs could meet on Zoom. This is, of course, looked down upon by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who wanted to force even those who were clinically vulnerable back to Westminster as soon as possible.

Yet doing more on a remote basis – which doesn’t been being stuck at home, but being more embedded in your local community – can increase democracy. Certainly now we have more access to Parliamentary goings-on. Before Covid, I had to take half a day out to attend a Women and Equalities Committee meeting. I rarely went and I don’t live on the other side of the UK. Now I tune in often on Zoom and because the sessions are recorded I can watch them at any time of the day. Greater access can only make Parliament more transparent.

So there must be ways to make Parliament more modern and more accessible and, in so doing, to make it more possible for those with caring responsibilities and many others to participate in it. What is missing is the will to change from some quarters. Tradition, like rituals, can create a sense of belonging, but it can also exclude many and it can act as a block to progress. The trick is keeping some sort of link to the past so we can learn from it, but not being so stuck in it that we cannot move forwards or indeed risk moving backwards.

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