Job Share MPs – A Realistic Proposal? By Anya Sizer

If we have learnt anything over the last few years (in this post referendum era) it must be that our political structures urgently need review. We need change in how we represent the people of the UK and indeed in who should be representing us.

Small signs of these changes have begun to crop up: from professor Sarah Child’s “Good Parliament” report, to the introduction of Proxy voting and Stella Creasey’s call for a Locum MP to cover her maternity leave.

It is within this context that yours truly, (CotL member Anya Sizer) and my Labour party colleague Charlotte Carson, have launched a campaign to allow MPs to be able to job share.


Just like many Labour Party policies, this is in some ways a radical concept but in others an obvious move. Allowing for a more diverse group of people to be able to represent us within the chamber, whilst making parliament truly democratic and fit for purpose.

The idea for me personally grew out of my experiences in politics over the last few years.

Let me explain. I have worked for three different MPs and received incredible training from both Labour Women’s Network and Fabian Women’s Network and I would really love to stand as a Labour candidate.

However, the reality of my life is I am a mother of three, one of whom is adopted with significant additional needs. Whilst I have the capability, skills and the drive to represent my constituency, that just doesn’t match my availability, especially when you consider the 50+ hours a week that many MPs put in.

A throw away comment to a colleague that “what I would really love is a job share” soon led to a journey of discoveries…


Much work has already been done on this issue: from John McDonnel’s 2012 private members bill to the Fawcett societies “Open House” report and even a court case on behalf of the Green Party.

Reassuringly, these people had already come to the same conclusions we had; job sharing the role would increase the diversity of citizens eligible to be an MP, it would help alleviate some of the enormous pressures individual MP’s are under and ultimately it could mean even more scope to better serve their constituencies.


#JobShareMP Charlotte Carson, Sadiq Khan Mayor of London and Anya Sizer, Member of Christians on the LeftThe main arguments against the idea fall into two categories:

Firstly, the practicalities.Many people wonder how the role would or could be divided. For example, would one person mainly focus on constituency casework and another one on parliamentary work?

For myself and prospective “running partner” Charlotte, the way we would divide the role would be to follow a one-week-on one-week-off model, in order that both partners would undertake all aspects of an MP’s schedule. There are valid alternatives such as 3 days each a week, or working different hours more flexibly, but the underlying intention should always be to equally split all responsibilities.

The other practical major obstacle to overcome is the issue of voting intentions in parliament and what to do should there be disagreements within the partnership.

Charlotte and I have tested this personally by looking at several months of actual votes and issues from the commons, secretly assessing how we would individually vote and then sharing the results with each other. I am pleased to share that every single voting decision we made would have been the same.

However, there would of course need to be a formal mechanism for when this breaks down. Should this happen, the partners would simply defer (as MPs already do) to the party whips’ decision and party line on the matter. There may be times when one or other would have to compromise on issues, however this is an experience MPs face already on a daily basis and not a valid argument against the idea of a job share.

 

The second main argument against a job share is that the public perception of a Member of Parliament is that of a sole representative of an area and the face of a constituency.

The Fawcett society investigated this as an issue via a public survey. They found that once the positive arguments had been shared around increasing diversity and allowing for greater representation, that nearly half of all people agreed it would be a good idea.

For us, some of the campaign will have to be about helping the public to understand the merits of job sharing the role. Many people will need a change of mindset and help with understanding this culture shift. Perhaps this is also a case of needing to demonstrate in a practical way what this would look like, something we are both keen to do.


#JobShareMPIn August 2019, we officially launched the #JobShareMP campaign with a round table in Westminster and representatives attended from the Green Party, the Women’s Equality Party, Labour Women’s Network, The Fabian Society and chaired by Rosie Duffield MP. We are really keen that Labour lead the way on this and it was fantastic to have Rosie at the event.

Since then we have launched our campaign page on Facebook (click here and follow us to keep up with updates) we have spoken to dozens of MPs and we have written to Jennie Formby and applied to stand as candidates.

We are keen to keep building momentum for the campaign and to get the message out. We are also preparing (if required) to launch a second legal battle to allow for a change in the law.

Ultimately, we want to see the House of Commons as a place that truly represents the people it seeks to serve, fit for purpose, reformed and modernised. We believe that alongside other changes this could be exactly what is needed after the political difficulties of the last few years.

Sharing the role of an MP may well be just the change that politics currently needs.


Please do share the campaign page, use our hashtag on social channels and just as importantly, share the idea with your friends. You can also message Anya on Twitter here.

#JobShareMP

References

Please note that this blog is also published on Christians On The Left

Women Will Remain Poorly Represented While We Fail to Accommodate The Realities of Women’s Lives By Kelly Grehan

“Women are not interested politics Kelly, that’s why I voted against it.”

So said a member of my CLP, when explaining why he voted against an AWS (All Women’s Shortlist) motion.  Of course, this comment was no surprise to me. Years as a political activist have shown me time and time again that, for many, the idea that women do not belong in politics persists.

The failure to bring about gender equality in any part of our political system is used by some as proof women are not interested or not ‘cut out’ for politics.
Of course, the truth is that, 101 years on from some women gaining the vote, the infrastructures of our political systems continue to conspire to exclude women.

When the first women entered Parliament, beginning with Nancy Astor in 1919, The Palace of Westminster was not designed for women at all.  The only women’s toilet was a quarter of a mile from the debating chamber and a small staff room in the basement, known as ‘the dungeon’ was designated The Lady’s Members Room.  

Women were expected to use this as an office, changing room and everything else. Meanwhile men had access to baths, dining rooms and a smoking room. Things have largely continued in the same vein- with women expected to adapt to the political system, as it is, with little thought given to how it could change to incorporate the realities of womens’ lives.  

This surely, is one main reason why women remain so underrepresented in all layers of government.

Take maternity: in 1976 Labour MP Helene Hayman became the first sitting MP to give birth. When her son was 10 days old she asked the Conservative Whip if she could be paired in order to miss a vote, and received a negative response.  Labour Whips refused her the time off so she came, baby in tow, forced to breastfeed the child in the only suitable place, which happened to be Shirley Williams office. A senior Conservative called the police when she left the baby with his nanny in the Ladies Members room while she voted.

And so things continued like this until last year, Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson was ‘furious’ after Tory Barndon Lewis, who she was paired with, voted in a Brexit vote while she was on maternity leave. This led to Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, delaying a planned caesarean, in case the same thing happened to her.  The outcry over this led to a temporary standing order being introduced to allow new parents to vote by proxy, with Tulip making history when Vicky Foxworthy voted in her behalf in January.

In 2010 a nursery was put in the Palace of Westminster.  Predictably, a complaint followed – about the loss of the bar, about the ‘waste of money’ and, of course, that this was a ‘perk for women.’

The numerous bars which adorn the building are apparently not a perk worthy of comment.  The fact is the changeable nature of Parliamentary debates, with urgent questions and the like, make planning childcare incredibly difficult, for staff as well as Members and a nursery helps.

Last week Parliament debated making the place more family friendly and accessible.

Ellie Reeves said:

“If Parliament is to be truly representative of these we seek to serve, we must continue to look at ways to break down barriers for those who might consider putting themselves forward for public office.”

Why have we not done this already?  

This week MP Stella Creasy announced her pregnancy.  At the same time she bravely told of her experiences of suffering miscarriages and having to continue with her work as an MP while bleeding and in pain. MPs from all parties have commented in support of her campaign for maternity leave for MPs.  

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) regulates the pay of MPs and authorised the budgets they claim for their work. It does not ‘recognise’ that MPs may go on maternity leave and so bears no responsibility to make provision for any paid cover for what they do outside the parliamentary chamber like campaigns and constituency casework.

In Denmark a member of the national parliament would have a substitute MP appointed.  Stella said she felt “forced to choose between being a mum and an MP.”

How many great people are we missing out on because Parliament does not account for the simple fact women have babies?

Why is all the responsibility on the mother, rather than on the structure which is oppressive in penalising parents who wish to serve?

Then there is council, where women and people under 60 continue to be poorly represented, which is a shame because councils should be representative of all groups within the community.

I know that when my children were under 5 I knew much more about local provisions for preschoolers, what was available and what was missing than I do now. That’s not to say I don’t try to be an effective voice for mums battling with services I no longer use, as I will for anyone,  but there is no doubt that councils benefit from people with a broad range of experiences – and at the moment that is rare.

I could not have dreamt of standing for council when my children (now ages 12 and 9) were younger as I could not possibly have been attending committees within days of their births, or managed bath time routines around late meetings, or canvassed while breastfeeding.  

Being a councillor and a mum is difficult: late meetings, casework, reports to read, but I love it. Representing my community is what I always wanted and I am sure there are many other women like me who dare not put themselves forward because the systems are not in place to support them.

It may surprise people to learn that there is no expectation of time off for anyone who has recently given birth, from council work. Only around 5% of councils have baby leave policies.  I’ve heard female councillors being told they must attend meetings within weeks of giving birth and feeling shamed for not ‘pulling their weight.’ This is not good for them, and frankly it is not good for our society.  

Until we act to change things we will continue to exclude people from standing and will not get the representation we need.

Petition for Maternity Leave for MPs:

https://www.change.org/p/marcial-boo-chief-executive-of-the-independent-parliamentary-standards-authority-give-mps-six-months-parental-leave?signed=true&fbclid=IwAR0IlkD_xjnQ4sRPZ-LoQJTWtQA-D6MQiMJ8uGkD–L_1Ow9bmbZNaFbUkI