Posts Tagged ‘parliament’

Is Brexit a constitutional crisis, or a political one? The answer matters

Even now, with Brexit consuming Parliament, the question of whether we are suffering a constitutional or a political crisis is important, write Anand Menon and Alan Wager. A general election might be enough to push a deal through the Commons, but it would not necessarily fix the greater problem: the damaged political legitimacy of Parliament.

What constitutes a political crisis? And when, and how, does a crisis of politics evolve into a crisis of the constitution? This might sound like an argument over semantics. Yet for political scientists, the distinction is an important one. This is because it can tell us what might happen next: a political crisis is solvable by politicians as gridlock – slowly – works its way through to a resolution. A constitutional crisis, on the other hand, suggests something more fundamental: a deeper contradiction in the system requiring an altogether different solution. One is (more or less) temporary, the other (potentially) permanent.

The case for Brexit as a temporary bug in the Westminster system can be made via counterfactuals. If the general election had not been held in 2017, Theresa May would be operating with a slim majority rather than as head of minority government. If different decisions on the direction of Brexit had been made at various forks in the road – particularly following the loss of this governing majority – then it is at least plausible to think the present situation might look very different. Reaching out in June 2017 to secure broader support for a softer Brexit than she had laid out before her ill-fated popular poll might have made all the difference. The point is that these are questions of statecraft, not a system failure.

Indeed, retrospective analysis of the legislative politics of the last two years shows that the minority government has, on the whole, managed to fumble along – up to now – as well as one might reasonably have expected. The last period of minority government in the 1970s led to an equivalent number of defeats and many of the same political tactics: pulling votes at the last minute, mass abstentions from the government and the politicisation of the whip’s office.

However, you have to reach further back, to 1924, for anywhere near comparable defeats as those suffered by May on her Brexit deal. But again, these defeats were the result of political parties realigning and the party system coming to terms with the rise of the Labour Party. They were a matter of the party system, not the political system.

There is also a problem in assessing the functioning of Westminster through its capacity to manage the issue of Europe. The last period of comparable governing turbulence to now was during John Major’s premiership. Then, as now, the issue of Europe and tight parliamentary arithmetic disrupted the normal flow of relations between government and parliament.

The difference now is that the EU issue has underlined and heightened a political cleavage in the electorate based on social values. The new post-Brexit politics is something that the Independent Group, and undoubtedly any future project headed by Nigel Farage, hope represents a political sea change.

Yet they may be disappointed. The result of the Brexit brouhaha might yet be a recreated political coalition on the centre-left that looks a lot like the pre-coalition Liberal Democrats, and the latest iteration of British Euroscepticism on the right. This would begin to look a lot more like the ebb and flow of conventional British politics than a dramatic reformulation. And the surest bet in British politics is that, when politicians attempt to redefine the political system, the electoral system reasserts itself.

It is when we look more closely at the rhetoric and actions of MPs that things become more worrying. Unworkable and unsustainable contradictions are the symptoms of a constitutional crisis. A breakdown of collective cabinet responsibility, which leads to cabinet ministers saying one thing to the House of Commons and then doing another. A Prime Minister who, at crunch time, decides to pit the office of Prime Minister against the Parliament from which she derives her political power. A Parliament made up of MPs who are unable to reconcile a desire to act as both delegate and representative.

Theresa May’s speech on 20 March appeared to be moving the politics of Brexit on from crisis management to a political blame game. The Prime Minister’s theme of anti-politics outraged MPs, but these rhetorical themes of collective failure and systematic breakdown are shared – one way or another – by Jeremy Corbyn, Chuka Umunna and Nigel Farage.

The realities of complex modern democracy sit uneasily alongside the idea of simple solutions. This friction creates a different type of constitutional crisis: a long-term undermining of political legitimacy among voters. And what all the polling shows is that the one thing that seems to unite voters is a sense that politicians are failing. Moreover, and for what it’s worth, surprisingly resistant to this blame game on the Brexit impasse so far is the EU: voters blame the government, followed by parliament, with the EU a distant third.

Perhaps the key determinant of whether the current crisis is political or constitutional is whether it can be resolved through an electoral event. If so, it is ephemeral. And a general election could, in theory, break the deadlock. A small swing towards the Labour Party could lead to a different minority government and another referendum. A Conservative leader advocating a different deal or no deal at all may get the numbers they need. However, any general election or referendum campaign is likely to be driven by recrimination. The danger is that we could, in trying to resolve a temporary political deadlock, talk ourselves into some longer term damage.

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Note: The above is taken from a longer report on Article 50 two years on. It was first published on LSE Brexit. Image: Wellcome Collection via Europeana (CC BY 4.0 licence)

About the Authors

Anand Menon is Professor at King’s College, London and Director of UK in a Changing Europe.

 

 

Alan Wager is Researcher at UK in a Changing Europe.

 

 

 

News review – Good Friday 19 April 2019

News review – Good Friday 19 April 2019

Brexit

Mail
Spartan Tories insisted today they would never vote for Theresa May‘s Brexit deal and said staying in the EU for longer was a better solution to the impasse. The hardline intervention is a fresh blow to the Prime Minister’s hopes that sending MPs away from Westminster for a week of Easter holidays would cool tempers. Mrs May herself is in Snowdonia trying to find a new strategy for getting her deal through Parliament after it was crushed three times by MPs. At the last vote she was still defied by 28 Tory Brexiteer rebels in the hardline European Research Group. Since the vote, the number of rebels has if anything gone back up. One of them, former Cabinet minister David Jones, said a long extension inside the EU was better than signing up for the deal. He said delay allowed time for a new deal or better preparations for No Deal.  He was backed by Stewart Jackson, a former Tory MP and chief of staff to David Davis when he was Brexit Secretary.

Guardian
Jeremy Corbyn is to be urged by a group of Labour MPs not to “torpedo” the prospect of a Brexit deal with Theresa May by insisting on a second referendum. The MPs, including Stephen Kinnock and Gloria De Piero, are set to send the  Labour leader a letter early next week setting out their “deep-seated reservations about a second referendum”, which they believe would be “divisive but … not decisive”.

EU

Breitbart
Britain should use the six-month delay before Brexit to “cool down” and reverse its decision to leave the EU, Frans Timmermans has said. The globalist vice-president of the European Commission — who recently declared that uniting Europe with Africa was “a matter of destiny” — expressed hope that Britain would use the time before its delayed Brexit departure date of October 31st to decide to stay in the bloc.

Reuters
Britain should use the next few months to “cool down and rethink” its decision to leave the European Union, the socialist candidate to head the next European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said on Wednesday. Last week EU leaders gave Britain an extension of its departure date until Oct. 31, with the possibility of leaving sooner if parliament ratifies a divorce deal Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated with the EU. Lawmakers have already rejected the deal three times.

BBC

Conservative Woman
ON March 29 last year, one year before non-Brexit day, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a day-long series of programmes called Britain at the Crossroads which the Corporation’s PR hype said was designed to examine the steps towards Brexit. At its heart was the first of a multi-part series presented by Mark Mardell called Brexit: A Love Story? which purported to give a history of the love-hate relationship between the UK and the EU. Predictably, it proved very one-sided. There was a deluge of pro-EU/EEC comment – from both presenter and contributors – but much less from those who were anti-EEC/EU.

Conservative Party

Sun
MINISTERS blew more than £13m in two months on failing to persuade MPs to vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal and a hard exit that never happened. The splurge was carried out between mid-November to mid-January, in the run up to the first Meaningful Vote on January 15. A total of £12.4m was spent by the Cabinet Office on external consultants’ fees. The vast sum paid for external experts to drum up alternative plans to keep the Irish border open as well as prepare for a No Deal exit.

Independent
Theresa May could face an unprecedented no-confidence vote among grassroots Tories, as the prospect of a crushing defeat in European elections looms. Local party chairs have been circulating a petition that is on course to force the National Conservative Convention to hold an extraordinary general meeting where members could pressure the prime minister to resign. The plot emerged as a poll showed Nigel Farage‘s new Brexit Party had stormed into the lead ahead of EU parliament elections next month.

Mail
Two MEPs campaigning for a second referendum have been re-selected as candidates for the Conservative Party. Sajjad Karim, a former Liberal Democrat who has described Brexit as ‘madness’, will be top of the party’s candidates list in the North West of England.  While Charles Tannock, who co-founded the Conservatives for a People’s Vote campaign, will be on the ballot paper in London.

Local elections

Telegraph
Tory councillors are refusing to mention Theresa May’s name on doorsteps ahead of next month’s local elections because voters associate it with “betrayal”. Conservative Associations across the country are finding that Mrs May’s name is so toxic with voters that the mere mention of the Prime Minister gets in the way of campaigning. Tory councillors fear that voter backlash against Mrs May’s handling of Brexit will cost them their seats, and are desperately trying to keep conversations focused on local issues to avoid being tainted by events in Westminster.

TBP

Mail
Nigel Farage revelled in the ‘very good start’ enjoyed by his new Brexit Party today as a new survey showed it topping the polls for the EU elections. Mr Farage said it was clear the ‘public are warming to us’ and he moves to crush both the Tory party and his old force Ukip. A new YouGov survey – the third in a week – for the Times today again shows the Brexit Party on top, leading Labour 23 per cent to 22 per cent. The lead is smaller than yesterday’s sensational results which showed the Brexit Party on 27 per cent.

Express
THE Labour EU elections list is so remain heavy left-wing Brexiteers are throwing their lot in with Nigel Farage, including George Galloway. The May 23 European Parliamentary election are already throwing up some strange bedfellows and none more stranger than the firebrand former Labour and Respect MP and the Brexit Party. Mr Galloway took to Twitter to explain his position after seeing the Labour list of candidates for the EU elections.

UKIP

Mail
Ukip leader Gerard Batten has sparked fury by sharing a platform today with an election candidates who sent a ‘rape’ tweet to an MP. The right wing leader appeared at the party’s EU election launch in London alongside Carl Benjamin – also known as YouTube personality Sargon of Akkad. Benjamin, 39, has nearly 1million subscribers and hit headlines when he tweeted ‘I wouldn’t even rape you’ at Labour’s Jess Phillips, prompting Batten to defend it as ‘satire’.

Guardian
Gerard Batten, the Ukip leader, has insisted his party is the true voice of leave voters as he sought to counter an existential threat from Nigel Farage. At a press conference to launch Ukip’s European election campaign, Batten, whose party has been reduced to a rump in the European parliament after defections to Farage’s new Brexit party, insisted Ukip still had a future.

Sky News
UKIP’s leader has dismissed Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, telling Sky News it is “not a proper political party”. Gerard Batten said the former UKIP leader’s new venture was a “vehicle for one man” and added: “All you get from Nigel is rhetoric.” One opinion poll predicts the Brexit Party could win next month’s European elections, with suggestions many UKIP voters are switching to the new party.

Huffington Post
Ukip leader Gerard Batten walked out of a TV interview on Thursday after he was questioned over his defence of a party candidate who made a comment about raping a Labour MP. In 2016, Carl Benjamin, who wants to be the Ukip MEP for the South West, tweeted at Jess Phillips that he “wouldn’t even rape you” and that “feminism is cancer”. Batten has previously defended the Tweet as “satire”.

Parliament

Times
Theresa May has told ministers to finalise their plans for legislation to feature in the Queen’s Speech in a move that will inflame tensions with Tory MPs who are demanding that she leave Downing Street this summer. Whitehall departments were told last week that the prime minister would “actively consider” proposals for the speech — which outlines the government’s legislative plans at the beginning of a new session of parliament — after the Easter recess ends on Tuesday.

Guardian
Theresa May could put off the Queen’s speech until later this year, with government sources saying there were no immediate plans to bring one forward while parliament had not yet approved a Brexit deal. May had been widely expected to schedule a Queen’s speech setting out the government’s legislative agenda within weeks, because she announced a two-year parliamentary session in mid-June 2017.

Tory Party leadership

Independent
Boris Johnson has grabbed himself a highly prized new Commons office in a move designed to help him win a Conservative leadership contest. The leading  Brexiteer is moving into spacious rooms big enough to accommodate a campaign team at the heart of the Westminster estate, The Independent has learnt. The switch will allow the former foreign secretary – still the bookies’ favourite to succeed Theresa May – to better coordinate efforts to win the backing of Tory MPs in the looming contest.

Sun
BORIS Johnson would win the Tory leadership contest if Theresa May is toppled in the next few weeks, his key allies now believe. A dramatic surge in the last four weeks has seen the former London Mayor rapidly sign up almost as many MPs as race frontrunner Jeremy Hunt. Both senior Tories are now counting on the votes of more than 50 Conservatives MPs, from a total of 313. But BoJo’s campaign team are convinced he will trounce his successor as Foreign Secretary in phase two of the campaign, a head-to-head run off between the two leading candidates in front of all 150,000 party members.

Bercow

Mail
A hardline Tory Brexiteer is to make a fresh attempt to boot out Commons Speaker John Bercow, accusing him of ‘bias’ in favour of Remainers that has helped delay the Uk’s departure.  Former minister Crispin Blunt, a member of the European Research Group of Tory eurosceptics, said he intended to table an early day motion (EDM) of no confidence when MPs return to Westminster on Tuesday. EDM’s – which are not allocated any time in the parliamentary timetable – are rarely debated or voted on, but are used by MPs as a vehicle to express their views on a particular issue.

Express
BREXITEERS have launched a fresh attempt to oust Commons Speaker John Bercow over his shameless Remainer bias. Former minister Crispin Blunt has been rallying support for a motion of no confidence over Mr Bercow’s handling of laws taking Britain out of the European Union. The Tory MP wants to pile pressure on the Speaker to quit after speculation he will stay in post until after the Brexit deadlock is resolved. “Even his most partisan supporters for the positive changes he has delivered as Speaker do not now seriously dispute his bias in the conduct of our affairs,” he said.

Yahoo News
Furious Brexiteers are said to be preparing a motion of no confidence in Speaker John Bercow because of his apparent ‘bias’ over Brexit. Former minister Crispin Blunt, a strong Leave supporter, is seeking support for an early day motion (EDM) when MPs return to Westminster on Tuesday following the Easter break. EDM’s – which are not allocated any time in the parliamentary timetable – are rarely debated or voted on, but are used by MPs as a vehicle to express their views on a particular issue.

Guardian
John Bercow is facing another attempt to oust him as Speaker after a leading Conservative MP began collecting signatures for a no-confidence motion. Crispin Blunt, a former chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, wrote to fellow MPs saying he wanted to table an early day motion saying Bercow was no longer impartial. In the letter, he claimed to have some frontbench Conservative support for the move against the Speaker, who has enraged the government in recent months by refusing to let MPs vote repeatedly on Theresa May’s Brexit deal after their rejections of it.

Climate change protest

Guardian
Sajid Javid has called on police to use the “full force of the law” against Extinction Rebellion protesters causing disruption in London to draw attention to the issue of climate change. The home secretary, who is positioning himself for a run at the Conservative party leadership, made a series of tweets condemning “any protesters who are stepping outside the boundaries of the law”. He called on the police to “take a firm stance” against protesters who were “significantly disrupting the lives of others”.

Times
Sajid Javid demanded that police crack down on climate change activists yesterday as Scotland Yard was criticised for failing to stop the protests that have left parts of London paralysed. The home secretary urged the police to use the “full force of the law” after footage emerged of two officers dancing to music at an illegal roadblock at Oxford Circus and of another using a skateboard on Waterloo Bridge.

Mail
Eco-warriors are plotting to bring misery to Easter holidaymakers today. They plan to ‘shut down’ Heathrow and disrupt traffic for families planning a bank holiday getaway. The mainly middle-class protesters have already caused chaos by blocking four major routes through London for four days. Now they have vowed to ‘raise the bar’ by targeting hundreds of thousands of tourists jetting off for the weekend. More than 1,000 police are being deployed each day but have failed to restore order – leading to claims they are surrendering the streets.

Morning Star
EXTINCTION REBELLION protesters are planning to disrupt Heathrow airport tomorrow, their fifth consecutive day of action. The anti-climate change campaign group confirmed today that it plans to occupy runways at London’s main airport over the Easter weekend as part of an “escalation” of ongoing protests. Extinction Rebellion, whose protests have brought major routes in central London to a standstill this week, has sent out an appeal to members to take part in an “arrestable action” at the airport.

ITV News
Climate change protesters have revealed they plan to “shut down Heathrow” on Good Friday and disrupt the Easter holiday plans of thousands of travellers. However Scotland Yard has warned the protesters face a “robust response” if they target Heathrow and added it has ”strong plans” in place. Heathrow added it is “working with the authorities” to address any threat of mass disruption, while Home Secretary Sajid Javid urged police to use the “full force of the law”. Eco-activists from Extinction Rebellion (XR) have been causing large-scale disruption in London since Monday as they campaign against climate change.

Times
Holidaymakers have been warned to expect chaos at Heathrow today as climate change campaigners vowed to shut down the airport. Extinction Rebellion activists may try to block access roads, including the tunnels to the airport. In a leaked Whatsapp message the group said: “Many of you have expressed a desire to disrupt Heathrow — and so we wanted to share this action with you. For the bank holiday we are halting swarming disruption and turning our focus on to the aviation industry. We want you to join us.”

Mail
Emma Thompson arrived at Marble Arch yesterday afternoon to support climate change protesters and urged others to join their numbers. What she might not have mentioned to them is that she had just flown back to Heathrow Airport from Los Angeles the day before. Many of the protesters have demanded that the Government limit how many times individuals can fly each year. Extinction Rebellion ringleader Robin Boardman-Pattison declared during a television interview this week that flying ‘should only be used in emergencies’ – despite his own apparently extensive travels.

Telegraph
Dame Emma Thompson joined climate protesters in London on Thursday to declare that she wants to be among those demonstrators arrested by police. However, it has emerged that the Oscar winning British actress was photographed a day earlier arriving at Heathrow Airport after apparently flying from Los Angeles where it is believed she had been celebrating her 60th birthday. The Extinction Rebellion group, which is calling for flights to be used only in emergencies, insisted that any flight she had taken was an “unfortunate cost in our bigger battle to save the planet”.

NHS

Telegraph
First, health chiefs warned of the perils of Easter eggs – which stood accused of fuelling Britain’s obesity crisis. Now millions of DIY- enthusiasts are being cautioned to take care before indulging in another bank holiday tradition – the home improvement. Health officials today urged those tempted to pick up their power tools this weekend to think twice, in case they end up in hospital. And they warned that men are far more likely than women to end up suffering injuries from powertools, lawnmowers, or toppling off ladders.

Times
If you’re planning a spot of DIY over the bank holiday weekend, NHS chiefs would appreciate it if you could do so as carefully as possible. In the past year there have been 4,764 hospital admissions caused by injuries from drills and other power tools, 6,372 after falls from ladders, 3,190 involving contact with a non-powered hand tool and 519 related to lawnmowers. Falls involving furniture accounted for 4,319 admissions. NHS England said that the number of injuries from power tools had gone up by 7 per cent in three years.

HS2

Times
Almost £600 million has been spent buying up property to make way for the HS2 high-speed rail link amid warnings over soaring costs. Figures released under freedom of information laws showed that HS2 Ltd, the government-owned company behind the programme, has purchased 902 homes, farms and other properties over the past eight years. Analysis of the figures shows that the taxpayer-funded company paid out more than £1 million for 130 of the properties. This includes £6.8 million for Whatcroft Hall near Northwich, Cheshire, which was owned by the comedian John Bishop.

Notre Dame

Mail
The Duke of Rutland has offered to donate mature oak trees grown on his estate at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire to help restore Notre Dame.   The 850-year-old cathedral in central Paris lost its spire and much of the ornate timber roof during Monday’s devastating blaze.  French cultural heritage expert Bertrand de Feydeau said France no longer has trees on its territory big enough to replace Notre Dame’s ancient wooden beams, which were cut in the 13th century from primal forests.  But the Duke of Rutland and a number of other owners of historic British estates have now offered to provide some of the oaks.

The post News review – Good Friday 19 April 2019 appeared first on Independence Daily.

The women of Westminster and how they have transformed politics beyond recognition

Despite their century-long struggles and achievements, the stories of women MPs have often been overlooked in political histories, writes Rachel Reeves MP. She draws on her new book to highlight the many battles fought by the women of Westminster since 1919.

Note: Rachel Reeves will be speaking about her new book at the LSE today.

‘Women have worked very hard. They have starved in prison, they have given their lives, or have given all their time, in order that women might sit in this House and take part in the legislation of the country’. These were the words of Ellen Wilkinson, the fiery left-wing Labour MP who was elected in 1924 and became one of the first Labour women in Parliament.

Just five years prior to Wilkinson’s election, the first woman to take her seat – Nancy Astor – was elected as an MP. Since Astor and Wilkinson’s time, women MPs in Parliament have revolutionised both the policy and the culture of Westminster. The effects of the campaigns that they fought – on issues from equal guardianship of children to equal pay – lives on today in all of our lives. Yet all too often, the histories and the successes of these brilliant women have been ignored and omitted from the history books. My new book, Women of Westminster: The MPs Who Changed Politics, attempts to write some of those women back into history.

It all started with the first two female MPs to take their seats in Parliament – Conservative MP Nancy Astor and her Liberal colleague, Margaret Wintringham. Despite being from different parties and being temperamentally very different (Astor was spirited where Wintringham was sensible), the two women were very close, and supported each other in their campaigns. Wintringham once affectionately called Astor as a ‘prancing pony’, with herself being the ‘carthorse’ trotting steadily alongside. Together, in 1925 they successfully passed legislation for the equal guardianship of children, reversing the status quo in which women had no rights to their children in case of divorce or separation. It has been described by some as the first piece of ‘feminist’ legislation.

While Astor and Wintringham felt a particular need to represent women’s interests as the only two women MPs, the tradition has continued throughout history. Independent MP from 1929, Eleanor Rathbone, was a passionate campaigner and lobbyist for family allowances – regular payments to mothers to help with the costs of having children. After her 25-year campaign in which she gained the support and advocacy of William Beveridge, in 1944 her vision became a reality. Family allowances were the forerunners of what we know as child benefit today – a policy taken forward by Barbara Castle in the 1970s and Yvette Cooper in the 2000s.

On many of these issues, women MPs have found strength in numbers by working cross-party. When I interviewed Shirley Summerskill, Labour MP from 1964, she emphasised that ‘fighting for equal pay brought women together, whatever party’. During the Second World War, a cross-party group of women MPs came together to create the Equal Pay Campaign Committee, lobbying for equal treatment of the newly-recruited women in the war effort. In 1944, Conservative MP Thelma Cazalet-Keir tabled a successful amendment for equal pay for teachers, which the government virulently opposed. It was the only vote that Churchill lost during the war. He was furious, chastising her that equal pay was like ‘trying to put an elephant in a perambulator’. He overturned the amendment by making it into a vote of confidence in the government, which he won resoundingly. But Cazalet-Keir had bravely put equal pay on the political map.

It was not until 1970 that Labour MP and Secretary of State, Barbara Castle, was able to implement legislation to enshrine the principle of equal pay for equal work into legislation. Thanks to Castle and the women who went before her, equal pay is now a legal reality. But a gender pay gap of 18% persists. The tireless work of Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson within the Coalition government to implement the mandatory reporting of businesses’ gender pay gaps has become yet another chapter in the equal pay story.

Of course, one of the most seismic moments for women in Parliament was the 1997 election. 101 of the 121 women MPs elected were Labour, ushered in on the wave of a landslide, all-women’s-shortlists and tireless campaigning from Harriet Harman, Angela Eagle and others to increase the representation of women. This boost in the sheer number of women MPs led to an unprecedented representation of women’s interests in policymaking. Tessa Jowell introduced SureStart children’s centres to improve the choices available to mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds. Harriet Harman also pioneered the National Childcare Strategy and National Minimum Wage, both of which had a disproportionate impact on women.

In 2017, a record number of women MPs were elected. From Jess Phillips’s cross-party work to tackle domestic abuse, to Stella Creasy’s campaign to improve access to abortion for Northern Irish women, to Theresa May’s action on human trafficking and modern slavery as Home Secretary, women continue to fight for causes that disproportionately impact women.

These causes should not be viewed as an essentialist pigeonhole – the fact is, women’s interests should be seen as mainstream, and men all too often have failed to represent them. The very concept of ‘women’s issues’ presumes that women are an abnormal subset of the population. Childcare policy, for example, is just as much about encouraging men to take a greater role in caregiving as it is about giving women the opportunity to enter the labour market.

In shaping the political agenda, women MPs haven’t just changed the content of policies. They have also changed the culture of politics. When Nancy Astor arrived in Parliament, she summed up the attitude of her male colleagues by saying that ‘They would rather have had a rattlesnake than me in the chamber’. When trying to get to her seat, she was physically obstructed by the men sitting on her row. She pushed past them regardless. In 1919, the parliamentary authorities found accommodation for them in the Lady Members’ Room, a dingy small room in the basement that the women dubbed ‘the dungeon’. The Lady Members’ Room was the only space in the male-oriented Parliamentary estate where the women MPs could work, dress or relax.

When Ellen Wilkinson was elected, she decided to defy convention by entering the Smoking Room. She was stopped at the door by a policeman who informed her that ladies did not usually enter. ‘I am not a lady,’ she responded curtly. ‘I am a Member of Parliament,’ as she pushed the door open. These acts of defiance, determination and courage brought about a sea change in the cosy male club that had previously existed. Parliament has its fair share of problems today, but the situation has improved drastically since 1919: we now have a parliamentary nursery, every woman MP has her own office, and maternity and paternity leave for MPs has finally been introduced after the campaigning of Harriet Harman and Maria Miller.

The 100th anniversary of the election of the first woman MP to take her seat is a time to remember, honour and celebrate the pioneering women MPs who have changed policy and politics for the better. We all stand on their shoulders. In the words of Nancy Astor ‘We can never forget the pioneers, the women who first dared – ours is such an easy task compared to theirs.’

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About the Author

Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West and Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. Her book, Women of Westminster: The MPs That Changed Politics, is out now.

 

 

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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