By Sarah Childs
I am the unnamed woman he couldn’t ‘make up’; I am the author of The Good Parliament Report; and my name is Sarah Childs. I am Professor of Politics and Gender at the University of Bristol, not ‘gender politics’ as was inaccurately reported, although to be honest I’m happy with that label. You can read the report here.
The Good Parliament makes 43 recommendations that would make the House of Commons a more representative and effective institution. The report addresses equality of participation, parliamentary infrastructure, and parliamentary culture. Predictably he focuses on transgender toilets and breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is apparently something women do to ‘show off’ whereas I thought it was about feeding a baby. His criticism goes so far as to suggest a recommendation I’d never thought of – nappy changing in the Commons.
There’s no need for transgender toilets, he says, as there are currently no transgender MPs. Presumably when there are, his opposition will fall away. In the meantime, what about the needs of House employees and visitors? He needn’t be scared. I was only suggesting that there should be some men’s, some women’s, and some unisex toilets – I imagine he prefers that term. And where is his campaign to abolish transgender disabled toilets? I’ve never seen a disabled women’s or a disabled men’s toilet. Maybe he has. Mind you, if you ban assistance dogs on the grounds that other MPs will want their pets in the Chamber too, there won’t be any disabled MPs in the House in any case… so he’ll have solved that one.
No doubt inadvertently, he ends up supporting two of The Good Parliament recommendations: a crèche and maternity leave.
Chloe Smith MP could not, as he suggests, have dropped off her baby at the House of Commons crèche – there is no crèche. There is a Parliamentary nursery. But a nursery does not provide ad hoc care for the late night, or even 7pm, vote. It provides full-time and permanent childcare. A crèche, by the way, would enable not just MPs but visitors and employees to ‘drop’ their kids off for an hour or so. He is, then, a welcome addition to supporters of this recommendation.
Neither does he realise that Chloe Smith could not have been on maternity leave – there is no formal maternity leave for MPs. He also forgets that in these days it is maternity, paternity, parental, and adoption leave. As elected officials MPs are not covered by legislation. They must individually negotiate with their parties. MPs will likely be granted leave, but they can and will be asked back for votes – just like the ill and dying. Has he not seen ‘This House’? And sometimes, as he acknowledges, MPs will want to come to the House to vote.
Maybe he will support one of the solutions suggested in The Good Parliament: MPs on maternity leave could vote remotely, or have a proxy vote. Does he not realise just how radical he might become if he follows the logic of his argument? Or is it that he wants to make the motherhood gap in the UK Parliament worse than it already is? Why, he asks, couldn’t the grandmother (he seemingly forgets about grandfathers) or the nanny have looked after the baby. That’s right: MPs all have their mothers just around the corner or are rich enough to have a nanny. Maybe it is mothers as well as the disabled that he’d like to see gone from our Parliament. Is that what he means by preferring an ‘antiquated’ Parliament?
Finally, I wonder why he didn’t name me. Last time I was in the Mail I received a very nice pink present – a ‘Guerrilla Girls’ tea towel from the Baltic Mill art gallery. The card was signed ‘Mathew’ – do you think it might have been him?