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The challenges facing women parliamentary candidates

Why I withdrew from the selection process to choose a Labour parliamentary candidate for Truro and Falmouth.

Candy Atherton was the first person to be selected under a Labour Party All Women Shortlist back in the mid 1990s. No one can say that was a mistake. Candy was a strong and effective MP and Labour has built upon the success of All Women Shortlists. As a result, Labour today has 45% female MPs as opposed to only 21% in the Conservative Party. This constituency is currently choosing its Labour parliamentary candidate using one. Four people applied. Three remain in the process.

All Women Shortlists are a blunt instrument to tackle a systemic problem. There are currently 208 women out of 650 MPs in the Commons – 32%. Forcing the issue at the final hurdle of selection does not change how difficult it is for women to be prospective parliamentary candidates and MPs. Iain Dale calculated in 2006 that it costs an average of £41,000 to stand as a parliamentary candidate. You do not get paid and you do not get expenses. The Labour Party are selecting our candidate in Truro and Falmouth potentially 4 years ahead of a General Election (although it currently seems unlikely that Theresa May’s government can hold on for that long). That means the candidate will be doing a full time, unpaid job for 4 years. Evenings, weekends and travel are all required. It makes sense that a candidate is selected to challenge Mrs Newton (or her successor) as early as possible and build up a profile, but it is a big role to take on with no guarantee of a job at the end of it; or even when the end will be.

If you are a parent that adds another complication. A four year unpaid role will cost a lot in childcare on top of all the other costs. If you are a single parent without a great deal of money and no family network nearby, the burden becomes pretty much impossible. The problem does not solve itself when you are elected either (as will most likely happen for the Labour candidate in this constituency after our amazing result last June of the 2nd highest swing in the country and a tripling of our vote share). You are then working in 2 places, 300 miles apart. An MP needs to be in Parliament until 10pm Monday to Thursday, so wherever you base yourself, you need 24 hour per day childcare for at least half the week. What are the options? Boarding school? No thanks.

There are 2 million single parents in the UK today. 90% of them are women. The House of Commons have just set up an All Parliamentary Group for single parent issues and highlighted National Single Parent Day on 21 March. I looked at that group. The only single parent on it is Rosie Duffield, MP for Canterbury. The only other single parent MP I have knowledge of is Diane Abbott. Both those women have constituencies within easy reach of Westminster. They can get home every night. You can’t do that if you live in Falmouth. I think the Parliamentary Single Parent Group needs to look closer to home before it starts to look outwards. In 2012, John McDonnell tried to bring a private members’ bill to allow MPs to job-share. This would mean people with caring responsibilities would be more able to stand as MPs. The House of Commons would look more like the people it represents and the constituency would get two MPs for the price of one and an MP in the constituency at all times. It was a Tory MP who jumped up and said – “Every so often I hear a proposal that is so outrageous and unusual that I have to pinch myself to check whether I have heard it correctly”. The bill did not progress.

I have been asked why I am not standing this time. It is true that I was not endorsed by Momentum. However, Momentum do not choose the candidate. Labour Party members do that. Also, Momentum in Cornwall are teachers, nurses, writers – hardly the rabid ‘hard left’ they are painted as by the media.

As it stands, I would have to miss out on much of the last years of my son’s childhood and go into the red financially to take on this role. I cannot do that. So, I must accept that the time is not right for me and hope that I get another chance one day. In the meantime, I have a vital job to do as a Cornwall Councillor when the important work of local government is being squeezed and starved by a Conservative administration.

Good luck to the woman who is ultimately selected to be our PPC. I will be behind her all the way.

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