As a mother of three toddlers, I say to Stella Creasy: No, you can’t bring your second job to Parliament, writes CLARE FOGES
Order! Order! The Speaker of the House of Commons could soon be chastising real toddlers – as well as MPs who act like them – if Stella Creasy gets her way.
The Member for Walthamstow is mounting a campaign for politicians to be allowed to bring their infants into the chambers of Parliament, after being rebuked for bringing her three-month-old son into a debate.
Shortly after being spotted with the babe strapped to her chest, Miss Creasy received an email from a parliamentary body alerting her to the rules on ‘behaviour and courtesies’ which say you can’t bring a child into the Commons.
‘News to me,’ she fumed. ‘Apparently Parliament has written a rule which means I can’t take my well-behaved, three-month-old sleeping baby when I speak in chamber’.
The MP has form in bringing babes in arms to the Commons – this is her second child to have made an appearance in these hallowed halls – and has been on the airwaves demanding change.
And almost all her m’learned men-folk – terrified of appearing like sexist dinosaurs – are falling over themselves to oblige.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has said politicians need to make sure ‘our profession is brought into the modern world’, while Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle says it is ‘extremely important’ for parents to be able to participate fully in the work of the House.
Stella Creasy is mounting a campaign to be allowed to bring their infants to the chambers of Parliament, after being rebuked for bringing her three-month-old son into a debate
‘Red Wall’ Tory MP Scott Benton, perhaps fearing we are two shakes of a rattle away from nappy-changing mats at the despatch box, had the guts to speak out, saying: ‘Parents who get paid a fraction of what you do pay for childcare and juggle responsibilities so they can go to work. What makes you so special?’
Don’t get me wrong, I admire Miss Creasy. She is an energetic MP who has scored some important victories, such as curbing those ghastly payday loan companies. But on this she is wrong.
Having a baby in the Commons chamber is about as conducive to the proper workings of Parliament as having a rabid ferret scuttling about on the green benches.
Babies are the enemy of clear thought. They screech, they cry, they let off foul-smelling odours. They are also utterly inconsiderate about interrupting while you make a crucial point.
I write this not as someone who thinks children should be seen and not heard, but as someone who’s had three babies in three years and thus joyfully sees and hears them all day long.
They are great as children, but as colleagues they are pretty undesirable. I struggle to even make scrambled eggs while wrangling my brood – so how on earth is an MP meant to participate in debates on great matters of state or focus on the finer points of fiscal policy with a baby pinned to her chest?
As distractions go, they are surely up there with the furore over MPs’ second jobs, the thrust of that argument being that working on other things means that Members can’t focus enough on the day job.
Surely the same principle applies here: Can you truly represent your constituents when you’re shushing a baby back to sleep? Never mind second jobs, looking after a baby is equivalent to a third and fourth job, too.
I am not saying that work and small children shouldn’t mix. Often they have to. I write this in the front seat of my car while my toddler son naps in the back, writing to the dulcet chords of ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ and other lullabies on the CD player.
I have tapped out dozens of articles with one hand at two in the morning while holding a breastfeeding baby with the other.
Miss Creasy is an energetic MP who has scored some important victories, such as curbing those ghastly payday loan companies. But on this she is wrong, says Clare Foges (pictured)
Not that I feel in any way like ‘Superwoman’. It’s more an exceedingly bedraggled woman who is close to a meltdown because one of the children has tipped Cow and Gate porridge powder over her Mac keyboard, rendering the ‘u’ unusable. Or ‘nusable’ if I don’t press the key very hard.
But all this happens behind closed doors. If I ever had a face-to-face meeting, or public engagement, I wouldn’t dream of bringing my eight-month-old with me.
Because though my world revolves around my babies, I recognise that the rest of the world doesn’t revolve around them.
Why should other people be made to feel uncomfortable, irritated or distracted by my children? While I find my children’s mutterings about dinosaurs and zoos delightful, I am well aware that others won’t.
Besides, while there might be scope for some offices to allow babies along for the ride, the House of Commons is a very special workplace.
It is the heart of our democracy, the crucible of national debate on matters which will shape the lives of 67 million souls. It should feel like a sacred place, not a creche.
‘What’s the harm in one little baby?’ you might ask, as Miss Creasy did. But if she wants to bring in her three-month-old, what’s to stop another Member bringing in their two-year-old or four-year-old?
We live in such barmy times that I wouldn’t be surprised if bringing your child into the Commons became a ‘progressive’ badge of honour.
No, Miss Creasy should continue to champion her far worthier cause, namely to secure backbench MPs an official period of paid maternity leave.
Although all MPs are paid in full while on maternity, paternity or adoption leave, not all their duties in Parliament are covered during their absence, creating not only uncertainty for constituents but also anxiety for the MP over how long their absence should be.
Let’s hope that Miss Creasy wins that fight – but not the one to get babies on the green benches.