Future women, real lives

The Women Candidates’ weekend is about to take place and (apart from the odd party pooper) most reasonable folk can see that an event that boosts confidence and offers a quick burst of training is of value. But what about candidate support and candidate retention when the big weekend is over?

In a small party with a reliance on the selfless hard work of a thin layer of ridiculously dedicated volunteers it is not surprising that the pastoral care of candidates has not been a big priority over the years. It was a luxury we could not afford. But that has had consequences. As someone who was approved and selected in 2002 my very strong impression, and it can only be an impression as there are no figures on candidate retention, is that the failure to “stay with” candidates through life changes (coupled with the assumption that candidates can and must do everything) has particularly disadvantaged women.

One extraordinary omission is the failure to provide candidates with any protection whatsoever during pregnancy. In bizarre contrast with the party’s passionate concern with post Brexit employment rights the party perpetuates a situation where candidates have no clear maternity rights just because they are volunteers.

As a candidate who has seen the sharp end of this issue the formula I have suggested to the candidates’ office is as follows and (constructive!) comments would be welcome.

  1. PPCs should be automatically entitled to 6 months maternity leave from their role as a candidate. A candidate’s maternity leave should only be compromised in the event of it coinciding with the immediate lead up to a General Election or by-election (i.e. the short campaign). Local parties should note that all pregnant women have a statutory entitlement to two weeks rest after giving birth and that statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks.
  2. Approved candidates who no longer wish to stand and those seeking approval as candidates should be encouraged to provide cover during a colleague’s maternity leave in order to gain or maintain their own campaigning experience.
  3. No serving PPC should be expected to fight a re-selection in her previous or successor seat (i.e. a seat that includes most of her previous seat after boundary changes) during her maternity leave unless such maternity leave coincides with the immediate lead up to a General Election or by-election.
  4. The party should look at best practice in this area in local government, where Liberal Democrat and other councillors have successfully taken maternity leave.

A Liberal government first introduced reforms that recognised the needs of pregnant employees in 1911! Surely we do not have to wait another century for pregnant volunteers in our own party to be recognised?

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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17 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Feb '17 - 10:29am

    These look like reasonable and inexpensive proposals for maternity leave for candidates. I think they are a very good idea.

  • “A Liberal government first introduced reforms that recognised the needs of pregnant employees in 1911,”

    I wouldn’t get too excited by that, Ruth. The Liberal Home Secretaries Winston Churchill and Reginald McKenna were still force feeding suffragettes – and McKenna introduced the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act in 1913.

    Old habits die hard. Building Trident (sorry should have said Dreadnoughts) still took up a massive amount of government expenditure at a time when there was massive poverty.

    What is still amazing is that many employers forced employees (such as teachers) to resign upon marriage until well after World War 11.

  • Elaine Woodard 28th Feb '17 - 12:35pm

    I hope the candidates office take up your suggestions Ruth. They are eminently sensible and would show that as a Party we are serious about helping women become MPs. This is too important an issue to be left to local parties.

    We also need to change the mind set that PPC’s have to ‘do everything’, especially in non-target seats. Perhaps for these the PPC role should be more about team building.

  • Great start (though massively overdue). But there needs to be some experimentation (beyond simply looking at local government) of support methods.

    It should be a source of embarrassment that there is currently nothing in place to cover these circumstances.

  • David Raw, actually I would get excited about the Liberal Government’s reforms in this area. It was the first significant change in this area, and it is a lot more difficult to take the first step than to move things further later. Likewise on pensions, national insurance etc – sure only a few collected them in that time, it was only a small amount etc etc. But it started things going, and as Ruth and many of us know, it is hugely harder to get things going than to build on previous generations hard work.

    If we as Liberals demean Liberal achievements, what chance will there ever be of people ever realising what we achieved.

  • Simon mcgrath 28th Feb '17 - 1:46pm

    @david raw “Building Trident (sorry should have said Dreadnoughts) still took up a massive amount of government expenditure at a time when there was massive poverty.”
    Interesting analogy. Would it have been better not to build the dreadnaughts and have the German Grand Fleet blockading Britain during WW1?

  • @ Simon mcgrath

    That would have been a very good point, Simon, if the Dreadnoughts had been used in the British Blockade of Germany. But, apart from Jutland in June 1916, they mostly sat (as does Trident) in a Scottish base. Queen Elizabeth did go to Gallipoli for a few weeks but was rapidly recalled when submarines began to be a threat.

    The British blockade was actually conducted by cruisers, destroyers, submarines, armed merchant ships and trawlers – all less vulnerable than the Dreadnoughts to submarines. The British blockade was extremely effective (credit to Asquith not LLG) and certainly played a major role in undermining the German war effort from within (by 1918 the average German was living on 1,000 calories per day).

    The German blockade was carried out by U boats not the German battleships.

    By 1922 most of the Dreadnoughts had been scrapped.

  • Ruth Bright 28th Feb '17 - 3:34pm

    That will teach me not to include a paean to our Liberal forefathers (and mothers) of a hundred years ago. I enjoy a natter about the First World War as much as the next woman – but perhaps another time!

    Many thanks for all the comments, both on LDV and elsewhere. Elaine particularly has been an amazing support to women candidates as I know only too well.

  • Perhaps something more needs to be added. Both the PPC and the maternity leave cover person would need some training. I imagine it would be difficult for the maternity leave cover parliamentary spokesperson to promote the PPC on maternity leave without some working together before hand. Also the PPC needs to have a major role in the selection of the person providing cover. It might well be important that the PPC and Local Party start early preparing for the maternity leave period.

  • Ruth Bright 28th Feb '17 - 6:59pm

    Agreed Michael.

  • Sorry, Ruth. Got diverted – men’s shed stuff.

    Wish you success at the meeting.

  • Rereading my comment, it was more negative than intended. Well done Ruth for putting this together. Things like this (and the WCW) are much more likely to deliver improvements than other discussions. How this isn’t already in place baffles me.

    Elaine makes good points here too.

  • Richard Robinson 1st Mar '17 - 11:46am

    Ruth, this is a sensible set of suggestions.

    In addition, constituency parties should also be obliged to communicate and support a PPC during her maternity leave to avoid any feeling of isolation during the cover. This would both reassure the candidate that she remains valued during the leave and help the candidate getting back up to speed quickly on return.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Mar '17 - 12:50pm

    Richard – that is a great suggestion. “Keeping in touch” days can be a very valuable part of formal maternity leave.

  • A bit of a half formed idea here but, presumably we would want to encourage the approach to be similar to legal arrangements where ever possible? As the law allows 12 months, though this may not be practical for a PPC, some reduced commitment arrangement should presumably be an option to allow the PPC to re-engage but in a light touch way to start to ramp back up. People can find volunteer roles can be harder to prevent bleeding in to the rest of life than a job; so coming up with a way for someone to gradually return from is probably more difficult than copying the approach for a return to work.

  • Catherine Royce 1st Mar '17 - 10:04pm

    Ruth, your proposal is a very good one, and perhaps its time to have a written policy to ensure that constituencies take proper care of their candidates during pregnancy and maternity leave. I would think we should, as a party, be offering similar terms to those currently offered to women in the paid workplace, ie 52 weeks, although its less clear how this translates to a voluntary, unpaid role. Are you primarily concerned about physical release from constituency activities, or maintaining the position/role of PPC?
    As a member of the executive, I can say that Liberal Democrat Women will certainly be happy to offer support to candidates in this situation, in fact we would welcome it, come and talk to us at Conference or send a note to us at HQ.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Mar '17 - 11:39pm

    Catherine, Psi thank you for raising the fact that statutory leave is actually 52 weeks. That would be my ideal. I have merely worked on the basis of six months as a more realistic goal. The climate clearly has changed on this – when I first raised the question of maternity leave in the party in 2002 (and first raised it on LDV in 2011) there was a tremendous amount of hostility. Perhaps that experience has led me to be insufficiently ambitious on the subject.

    Going merely with six months for the time being, I think that that six months has to allow for a complete break from the PPC role (physical and virtual). Even the least sympathetic constituency activist did not ask me to deliver FOCUS a few days after having a baby! I was however, shamed into party contact and party paperwork during my nine days in hospital after an emergency caesarean. Simply barbaric. There is a danger that without a complete break (perhaps with a few clearly defined “keeping in touch” days as the lovely Richard Robinson suggests) a slippery slope will occur and the PPC will be dragged back too early.

    Your support for this policy would be greatly appreciated Catherine – apparently the great and the good will be discussing the proposal on Saturday.

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