Meg Hillier warns women against Westminster career

Meg Hillier on the campaign trail (Photo: Hoxton Councillors)

 

Junior Home Office minister Meg Hillier is no longer encouraging women to enter politics. 

Hillier, elected Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch on an all-women shortlist in 2005, said she is no longer as enthusiastic about female parliamentarians as she was a few years ago.

“Now I am sounding a strong note of caution,” said Hillier, a former councillor who in 1998 became Islington’s youngest ever mayor. 

The mother-of-three added: “The new expenses system makes it very challenging for anyone with young children.” 

She said many of the candidates standing in 2010 had young families and would find life in Westminster hard, especially if their constituencies were not nearby. 

“I’m lucky to be an inner London MP and be able to go and see my children between votes.” 

Last April, Hillier took maternity leave following the birth of her third child. With David Cameron soon to become a father again, she advised that the prospective Prime Minister would have to very organised. 

“Being a working parent is challenging whatever you do,” she said. “It’s always hard juggling [work and childcare].” 

“I just have to have good childcare and have my children well trained,” said Hillier, adding that she sometimes finds herself up in the early hours baking for the school fair and that her kitchen floor is “never swept”. 

But she said she tries to follow fellow Hackney MP Diane Abbott’s example and make time for her children. “I try not to say no to things,” she said. 

As a busy working mother, she said she found the way Samantha Cameron and Sarah Brown were being used as campaign tools “a bit old fashioned”. 

“My husband wouldn’t do it for me and it would be interesting to see if the boot was on the other foot what would happen,” she said. 

This interview was originally conducted for the Hackney Post website.

The wife factor: why Sam and Sarah should keep silent

Ann Widdecombe agrees with me. 

At an event she spoke at tonight, I asked the veteran female MP what she thought of the Prime Minister and his opponents trotting out their respective wives on the campaign trail. Was it not demeaning, I asked, for Sam and Sarah, perhaps even Miriam, to be banded around like sparkling trophies testifying to their partners’ political prowess?            

 Widdecombe echoed my disgust, expressing her regret for the emergence of the ‘first lady’ of British politics.            

 Yet it seems unlikely her protestations, or my own, at the ‘wife factor’ will get anywhere. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen Sarah and Sam affirm to television audiences just how good their other halves are. Campaign strategists are beside themselves with glee about these so called secret weapons.            

 I’m not, and I suspect most female voters won’t be swayed by such a patronising play.            

 True, there is something intiguing about the woman behind the man in charge. We are fascinated by Jackie Kennedy and her latest incarnation in Michelle Obama. We want to know less about what Hillary’s aims were when she sought healthcare reform in the early 90s, and more about how she put up with that scoundrel Bill. Even Cherie had a perverse grip on the nation.            

 But just because I’m interested to hear the secrets behind Michelle’s wardrobe (J Crew all the way, apparently), doesn’t mean I take that as any reflection on her husbands political fortunes.            

Sarah Brown: campaign tool? (photo: Chris Greenberg)

 

       

            

We live in the age of celebrity. It’s the nature of our tabloid taste that we care whether Gordon is a bully, or whether Sarah is not. That’s fine; some may lament the personal and private becoming so political, but that ship has long since sailed.            

But an interest in the trivial doesn’t automatically discount one in the topical.    

Educated, intelligent and engaged women can read OK magazine and marvel over Carla’s fading beauty, but that doesn’t mean they’re not smart enough to appreciate the details of Nicholas’ economic policy.             

 Give us some credit. Politics might be tedious at times, but that’s true whether you have an x or y chromosome.    

If men can understand the difference between tax and spend, private or public sector, big or small government, so can women. These interviews with the wives, the campaign appearances, tell us little but insult a great deal.            

 We don’t need to know what Miriam Clegg says about Nick’s saucy past to figure these things out. And if women aren’t going to vote based on the issues, do handbags or hairstyles really make them more likely to have their say?            

 For the record, I met Sarah Brown once at a charity event and she was as pleasant as she appears; eloquent, well-presented and down to earth.            

 But she could have been a total horror, and could have made the whole lunch of middle-aged ladies splurt out their expensive soup.            

It wouldn’t make the slightest bit to difference to whether I vote for her husband though.        

Issues not eyesight

Look, OK, I get it. Gordon Brown is public enemy number one these days. Down in the polls, unpopular with his party, derided by columnists; he might be Sarah’s hero but he isn’t anybody else’s. Fair enough, we have reason to be angry at him. The economy is down the pan, I have as much chance of getting on the property ladder as Robert Mugabe does of winning the Nobel peace prize. Strikes, scandal, sleaze – all under Gordon’s lead.

Still. Can we stop hitting the man while he’s down. First it was Andrew Marr giving credibility to a hardly objective rumour mill simply to augment his celebrity status. Today, headlines everywhere are screaming about Brown’s eye damage.

Apart from the fact that Gordon having eye damage is hardly remarkable, (it is no secret that as a teenager a rugby accident caused him to lose sight in his left eye), I can’t really see (NOT intended as a pun) why this is relevant. I can understand why having a leader on antidepressants might present a problem, though that wasn’t why Marr was asking, but having eye problems?

He’s PM, for crying out loud, not a driving instructor. You don’t need great eyesight to understand political dilemmas, to solve economic woes, or make good speeches.

Good foresight maybe, but not good eyesight.

Besides, the man almost always voted most beloved PM in history, Churchill, was renowned as a drunk, so I think its safe to assume his liver was not in tip-top shape. Across the pond, the messianic president himself, JFK, had Addison’s disease. Neither of them were better or worse as leaders because of their health. A good leader doesn’t succeed because he is healthy, but in addition to that. If (don’t want to use the inevitable when) Brown loses the next election, it should not be because he is not in good shape.

It is downright wrong to judge him on this, as it is wrong to like or dislike Cameron’s politics just because SamCam’s dress was from Marks and Sparks. In any other profession, discrimination on such grounds would be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Hold him accountable for his bad decisions, his weaknesses and his political flaws. But please, let’s stop judging our politicians for things that are entirely peripheral to their careers.

Let’s step out of the mud and, instead or name calling and slurs, let’s have a real debate.