I’m delighted it’s Jo, even though I voted for Ed

I spoke at party conference in the Spring and said, amongst other things, that I had no idea why I hadn’t started sooner in politics. The truth is I knew full well.

Back in the early 1990s, when I had my first child at the age of 25, and a couple more in a short space of time, only one of us *had* to take time off straight after the birth. Maternity segued into parental leave after the second child. My husband and I have a pretty egalitarian household but it would have been financial suicide for us to use paid childcare that early in our lives- we would have ended up paying over not only my entire salary, but also some of my husband’s- it simply wasn’t financially viable.

After the first child, I went back to work, but it seemed that everywhere I turned I was on the “mummy track”, not expected to be ambitious, expected in fact to focus my entire world around my children. Which of course every new parent does. Paternity leave did not exist, even in my husband’s forward-thinking workplace. Society at large expected care of the children to be the mother’s, not the father’s, concern. The entirety of society was built around that premise- for example, my children’s school finished at 2:50pm- there was no after-school care because the headteacher thought children should be at home after that time. There was great judgement cast on mothers who worked when their children were small.

I started to be politically active 3 years ago. I’ve passed the age now where I care what people think about my parenting. Alongside my three now very accomplished 20-somethings, I also have a 9 year old and in 2019, no-one in the Liberal Democrats seems to think that puts me out of the running for anything. I’m older, and I live in a beautiful bubble of determination and bullheaded refusal to take any hints about how I *should* parent my fourth child. Society has also moved on slightly.

Every time I see Jo Swinson in passing, I mention to her how lovely it is to see her making speeches with baby Gabriel strapped to her front, how much of an inspiration it is to see her forging ahead babies and all. I I forget that I’m living in a bubble hewn from my own experiences.

And I then I go online, and I see Jo being condemned for carrying her baby. I saw a man on Twitter describe her as “encumbered by family”. This man had consulted his wife and yes, she agreed with him. To his immense credit, Ed stepped in after this comment and pointed out that he also had young children and did not agree one jot with what this man was saying. I see that while men in politics, even in 2019, are permitted to use their children to soften their image, women are still weakened by any reference to their state of motherhood- damned if they have children, and damned if they don’t.

Well, I have news for everyone: Babies are *human* children. It takes two to make a baby, and men and women really are the same species. These babies are *our* babies, they are not specifically *women’s* babies. And if it takes thousands of babies strapped to thousands of powerful political fronts to make that point, then so be it.

I voted for Ed because I prefer his political style. I am as feminist and egalitarian as they come but I would never vote for a woman just *because* she is a woman. I wish I’d had Jo’s guts, back in the 1990s when I had small children. I would certainly have been inspired by her. And I hope she inspires many other young parents- because things are changing, and have changed, and parenthood is slowing becoming the responsibility of both sexes- maybe not fast, but it is happening.

So I say “Go Jo!”. Go Inspire, go change, go challenge some received ideas. We *do* still need to topple structural inequality. Let’s do this!

* Eleanor Rylance is a human, parent, translator, East Devon District councillor, PPC for East Devon and terrible parkrunner

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3 Comments

  • Sarah Brown 23rd Jul '19 - 9:34am

    I too am a terrible parkrunner! Shall we do one together in Bournemouth??!

  • Hi Eleanor! Don’t forget in your “list of credits”, mead and video maker extraordinaire, and especially MEP candidate and campaigner just helping get two MEPs get elected in the South West for the first time ever!
    Please, however, don’t burn yourself out!!

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