Yesterday Stella Creasy, the Labour MP, sparked huge controversy when she complained about not being able to take her three-month old baby son into the House of Commons.
On Twitter she posted a screenshot of an official letter she had received, which warned she couldn’t have a “seat in the Chamber when accompanied by a child”. In response, Creasy tweeted: “Mothers in the mother of all parliament are not to be seen or heard it seems…”
Almost immediately she started trending on social media, where many criticised her comments. They pointed out that Parliament has its own on-site nursery for children aged three months to five years – so why doesn’t Creasy take her baby there? That, or why can’t she pay for childcare herself? After all, MPs earn a much better salary than most of the population…
Others highlighted the fact that mums in other industries wouldn’t be allowed to take their kids to work, so why should MPs be an exception? On and on went the counter-arguments.
There’s no doubt that bringing a baby to parliament – where our country holds its most important debates – is fraught with difficulties, even if Creasy’s baby looks very well behaved. Imagine if we’d have had some of the Brexit debates of the last few years accompanied by crying babies. Perish the thought!
Even so, I confess I found myself leaning towards Team Stella in this strange Twitter battle, and thought the response to her was quite telling. It’s no bad thing to have an MP point out the challenges of being a working mum, and the knee-jerk apoplectic reaction shows how little people think about this issue.
In many ways, our society has come a long way in promoting women’s rights; it’s easy to think we can relax and that the work is done. But one area we tend to ignore a great deal is motherhood, despite the enormous implications it has for women’s lives.
Take the gender pay gap, for starters. Motherhood is clearly the biggest cause of discrepancies in pay between men and women – forcing women out of their workplaces and/or into part-time work, which is the lowest paid – yet it’s not something MPs spend a long time contemplating, or anyone seems to be particularly vocal about.
More worryingly, lots of women have simply stopped having children, with birth rates the lowest on record in England and Wales since 1938, no doubt because they cannot see how to come out of work to have children. Maybe they have looked at the price of childcare and concluded it would be impossible. Millennials, who are the typical age people have children, also have to navigate expensive rents.
Women are calling out for better societal understanding and solutions here; for politicians to recognise that the current economic conditions make it near impossible for many to start families. So it’s not exactly encouraging when people rage against Creasy because she wants to take a little baby to parliament. Is this really something we need to get so angry about? Boris Johnson, in fact, got it right when he responded that parliament should be “more family friendly” – and so could many other industries be too.
Creasy clearly loves being a mum, which will be refreshing for politics, as she wants to use this experience to shape policy. Recently, for instance, she launched a campaign called VoteMama UK to support parents in politics.
As is obvious from yesterday’s reaction, lots of people will scoff at her ideas, but for many women it’s reassuring to see someone with her influence trying to shake up the system; trying, even just to get people thinking about whether women can “have it all” (they cannot); and ruffling a few feathers along the way. Conservatives shouldn’t mock, but take note.