Caron Lindsay defends Jo Swinson’s right to stand

Jo Swinson GlasgowThe government has been introducing a lots of “rights to” of late. Communities have rights to bid and to build. Individual have rights to buy and to personal budgets. After the last 48 hours of media coverage, it may be that we need to bring in a “right to stand.”

The story runs like this. Jo Swinson arrives for Prime Ministers Questions at a point when the house is already crammed out. She stands for a while and she’s happy with that. The political editor of the Spectator, James Forsyth however was horrified and tweeted.

Quite remarkable that no MP has offered Jo Swinson, who is seven months pregnant, a seat. Really shocking lack of manners and decency

The Daily Mail then took up the case. Caron Lindsay took that newspaper to task last night, concluding:

I find the Mail’s attitude to women much more offensive and harmful to society than anything that happened in the House of Commons yesterday.

Once the Mail had the story, it became open season. There is an unwritten rule with the BBC and quality press that even though a story is really just tabloid tosh, it fair game to take it seriously once it’s been in the Daily Mail. Much of the commentary revolves around the suggestion that Swinson thought that giving up a seat would be sexist. Except that’s not what she said:

Jo Swinson Tweet on Standing

David Cameron said it would be common courtesy to surrender his seat to a heavily pregnant woman, an elderly person or someone with several children. The BBC gave Vince Cable a ring, and he was – in the BBC’s words – chivalrous:

I think as a matter of basic consideration and good manners people should offer their seat to someone who’s visibly pregnant. I’d have thought that was just automatic. The old tradition of men offering seats to women has long gone but I think if somebody is heavily pregnant or is disabled, basic decency suggests you should give them preference.

Of course not all the comments are so refined. The Telegraph’s Cristina Odone is positively poisonous about Jo. And over in the Spectator, a curmudgeonly Rod Little grumbled: “I would give up my seat for any pregnant woman, except Jo Swinson.” Oh dear, oh dear.

On BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this morning, Lib Dem Voice’s very own Caron Lindsay put matters right. She faced James Forsyth, who described the incident as “shocking.” He said he was horrified that “no-one seemed to be saying ‘can I offer you a seat’, and I think that would have been a nice thing to have done”.

Caron was forthright and pragmatic in her response.

Jo has never said, nor would she say, that it is sexist to offer a pregnant woman a seat. Jo has said that at PMQs she was quite happy standing. Many pregnant women spend an awful lot of the time standing if they are nurses, teachers, hairdressers… What we are talking about is a few minutes in the House of Commons.

Asked by interviewer Michal Husain whether people should hold doors open for others, especially pregnant women, Caron said:

The world would be a nicer place if we all held doors open for each other… A little bit of empathy in the world is going to make it a better place.

Quite right. Empathy is what we need, and maybe a right to stand without it making headline news.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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12 Comments

  • Simon McGrath 18th Oct '13 - 2:39pm

    Surely the issue is not Jo’s ‘right to stand’. It whether she should have been given the choice by someone offering her a seat.

  • The issue is that several hundred middle aged men sat down without one of them having the manners to ask a pregnant woman if she’d like a seat. It’s sheer rudeness and it tells you something about the attitude that pervades our parliament.

  • Ruth Bright 18th Oct '13 - 4:03pm

    I agree with Simon McGrath! (Oh boy did I really say that?) Caron was excellent on the Today programme – let’s hope they ask her on more often.

  • Why would a woman have to be visibly pregnant before being offered a seat? I am disgusted with the attitudes displayed here. A gentleman would always offer a lady a seat (or a senior or handicapped, etc). What has become of us?

  • Why do people presume it would have to be a man offering her a seat. What if another woman had offered her a seat?

    I wouldn’t want to be offered one just because I was female and I feel uncomfortable having a man hold a door open for me. But I would offer a pregnant woman my seat. Can’t be easy on your back standing around.

    But some women complain about not being offered a seat, yet at the same time they want equality. Makes no sense .

  • Tony Greaves 18th Oct '13 - 11:34pm

    I was surprised and amused the first time a young woman about 50 years younger than me stood and kindly offered me her seat on a crowded Underground train. I smiled and shook my head and muttered”I’m fine, thanks”. But one day I will no doubt be grateful. (I thought she was from Eastern Europe).

    My record is now twice in a five-station ride on the Victoria Line. (But I actually like standing on tubes – it keeps one trim ready to run up the escalators…)

    I would offer my seat to an obviously pregnant person. But we don’t get many of those in the Lords.

    Tony

  • If someone looks as if they need a seat, make the offer then make way or accept a ‘No thanks’ (with no song and dance at any stage).

    As to doors, if it opens your way be ready to open and hold it. Where heavy loads, trolleys etc are involved a bit of negotiation and even dancing around may be required.

    Why are we still messing about with this?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 19th Oct '13 - 9:13pm

    Dave, the bit I had in my notes but didn’t get the chance to say was that in Scotland and Wales we have parliaments where this wouldn’t arise cos everyone has their own desk.

    Thanks, Ruth.

  • David White 20th Oct '13 - 2:19pm

    First, a BIG thank you to Lord Greaves. He made me chuckle. Although I am a septuagenarian and a bit unsteady (even before I have a drink), I found it embarrassing when first offered a seat (on an LMR train into Euston). Even worse was the other occasion when a young lady offered her seat on the Victoria Line: she called me ‘sir’!

    With regard to Jo Swinson, it matters not that she didn’t want to sit down: that was her choice – though she wasn’t offered a choice! As others have observed, what matters is that nobody, male of female, offered Ms Swinson their place. That was an appalling lack of common courtesy: the Speaker should have intervened (well, there’s plenty of room for two people on his huge chair).

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