Parliament is an institution that attracts deep disdain. It is home to a political class hated by its people. It is also a workplace.
It is an archaic workplace.
Its workers are all points of derision. Protesters crowd outside everyday on Parliament Square to wave placards that read ‘Parliament versus the People’. These protesters will yell at any parliamentarians they identify, who are usually making the now hazardous walk from Parliament to the Millbank studios and back. Those attacked Parliamentarians are almost always women.
It’s easy to feel little empathy or sympathy for MPs as concepts. Paid at nearly £80,000 a year, only recently caught in an expenses scandal that arguably helped ignite contemporary anti-politics populism, and usually only seen by most people heckling in the disaster show that is Prime Ministers’ Questions, they are easy targets of grievance for our political system. They are certainly the most tangible and public. You will never have to meet an MP, but you can hate their face. Yet recreating MPs merely as hated concepts has triggered a dehumanisation process that has ramifications that extend way beyond the Parliamentary Estate; ramifications that land on the shoulders, predominantly, of women.
Stella Creasy’s recent, shocking piece was a wake-up call for a scandal that we have always known about but had little time for. We have only raised our heads because a woman was brave enough to tell her story to the world. It takes publicly discussing the trials of miscarriage for us to remember – these MPs are humans.
Creasy tells of how IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) denied her the right to maternity leave. It means that there is potential she will never spend precious time with her newborn. If she does, her constituents are without an MP, they will suffer, and undoubtedly abuse for her and her office will ensue.
Tulip Siddiq had to go into Parliament to vote three days after a c-section, having already delayed it. MPs that miss votes have been at the receiving end of vitriol. Expected to withhold, because there are no replacements available, the literal birth of their children – or else.
This vitriol is not aimed at humans; it’s aimed at an expectation. Women in Parliament are reduced to an expectation – which allows IPSA to deny them the rights that make them workers, which in itself has the cyclical effect of enforcing the idea they are indeed not workers but still an expectation alone.
That IPSA are blind to the ramifications of this, or simply do not care, tells you everything you need to know about how little thought, exposure, scrutiny or consequence has been given to this most ridiculous of standards regulators.
It matters because the standards set for these women, these people, set a standard for employers across the country. It is public, loud, largely unchallenged workplace misogyny. If parliament can be seen to be mistreating its staff, denying its female staff basic workers’ rights, it gets reflected back onto a country that already treats female workers with fear and disdain.
It matters because, if we hate Parliament so much, we must surely change it. Change it by electing representatives that represent us. Ordinary, working class people who will do the job of changing the system, of representing the needs of their struggling constituents. But this is no attractive workplace. It is clearly no attractive workplace for ordinary women. Why would any working mother, or pregnant woman, ever wish to enter a workplace with no entitlement to maternity leave? One where they will never be able to see their newborn, or may not even be able to be present for their own c-section?
It sets a precedent for the young women in Parliament, too. Already public is the struggle young staffers face in sexual harassment cases and belittlement on a day to day basis. IPSA afford very little help or rights for those workers, either. Forget becoming an MP – why would any young woman want to enter this workplace even at a junior level? Parliamentary politics will remain male, and its rules dictated by men, at every level.
We expect Parliament to look like us. But it will never look like us women like this.
We expect so much of our MPs, but we do not expect them to be human. We do not expect MPs to have families, to be pregnant, to take leave as any worker would. We expect expectation alone. But women are women in any workplace, in any place at all. If we cannot fight for the rights and standards of women in the most public workplace of all, in the workplace that determines the laws that regulate all other workplaces, what hope can we expect for women in workplaces anywhere else?