Sometimes a picture really can tell a thousand words. Or in my case, 108,398. A year ago The Mummyfesto was published. It told the story of three ordinary women who decided to set up a family-friendly political party because they, like me, were so disillusioned about mainstream politics and the men in suits who dominated it.
A year on, this is where we are at. David Cameron’s all-male front bench at Prime Minister’s Questions today http://bbc.in/1br0Jh8
It’s not in the least bit surprising, of course. But it does succinctly sum up the problem politics faced back then and the problem it still faces today. It is a problem which is clearly not going to go away either. Sure, more female-only shortlists would help, but that is only tinkering with the problem at one end, and as a rash of resignations and announcements from standing female MPs that they will not be seeking re-election shows, appointing women in only half of the battle.
The fact is, being an MP is not a particularly attractive job prospect for many women. You have got to spend four days a week in London and if your family happens to live in Sunderland, well, that’s just hard luck. Even if you did want to uproot your family and take them with you, there is no House of Commons creche and breast feeding in the chamber is simply unheard of. The hours are not flexible or family-friendly and if you’re a mum, you can wave goodbye to reading bedtime stories or making it to your child’s parents’ evening.
You will be heckled in the chamber by boorish men and have to put up with patronising cries of, ‘calm down, love’, from, of all people, the Prime Minister. You will be attacked in the media, mainly for the way you look. More column inches will be devoted to your footwear than your policies. Your private life will no longer be private, your family could well be the subject of derogatory articles, as they will be considered fair game by the media. Tempted to apply yet? No, I didn’t think so.
In The Mummyfesto, my characters, helped by women across the UK, came up with a list of policies which would radically change the way parliament worked:
- The Houses of Parliament replaced with a network of regional mini-parliaments, allowing more women to consider standing because they wouldn’t have to up-root or leave their families.
- Parliament would sit in school hours in term-time, rather than have long, late night sessions.
- All regional parliaments would be electronically linked. The adversarial system of opposing government benches, which encourage the yah-boo politics so hated by the electorate, would be replaced with members speaking in turn from around the country, thus enabling a more collegiate approach - something women would relish.
- Each mini-parliament would have a creche and breast-feeding would, of course, be allowed.
- Votes could be cast electronically and it wouldn’t matter if your six-year-old was off school poorly that day, you could still listen to the debate and cast your vote.
- This system would allow all MPs to live in the constituency they represent, connecting them with voters and putting an end once-and-for-all to expenses scandals.
Sound more appealing? I think so. I suspect millions of women would do too. Unfortunately for them, The Mummyfesto was a work of fiction. It’s far too radical to be allowed to happen in real life. Traditionalists would object. The Establishment would object. The men in suits in charge simply wouldn’t allow it, they have far too much to lose.
So for now, you’ll just have to read The Mummyfesto if you want to be transported to a parallel universe where half of the population could be properly represented in parliament.
No doubt the few female members of the cabinet will be prominently positioned on the Government’s front bench for PMQs next week. But in May next year we’ll all get our chance to vote in the General Election. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll make our voices heard.