Jo Swinson defends Rachel Reeves from “staggeringly sexist” attack

Jo Swinson GlasgowRemember in 2010 when the Daily Mail went apoplectic and Tory backbenchers’ murmured criticism made headline news as David Cameron took time off after the birth of his daughter Florence just weeks after becoming Prime Minister? No, me neither, because it didn’t happen.

Five years on, however, Labour’s Rachel Reeves is under fire from the Mail and Tory MP Andrew Rossindell after announcing her plans to take 3 months’ maternity leave after she gives birth to her second child in June. From the Guardian:

Andrew Rosindell, the Tory MP for Romford, told the Daily Mail that a role in the cabinet required a person’s full attention. “I don’t want to say someone who is having a baby is not eligible to be a cabinet minister, but I certainly think perhaps the demands of that particular job will require someone to give it their full attention.”

“I don’t expect Rachel Reeves to be in the cabinet after the election because I expect the Conservatives to win, but clearly people need to be put in the positions they can handle.

At least the Number 10 press office did the right thing and answered “Why on earth not?”when asked whether it was appropriate for a pregnant woman to take a Cabinet position – but then that’s just them being consistent with, you know, the actual law of the land.

Our Jo Swinson was quick to come to Reeves’ defence, telling the Guardian:

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat minister for employment relations, condemned the comments. “The suggestion that a woman should be turned down for a job because she is pregnant is clearly outrageous,” she said. “That kind of discrimination would be illegal under employment law and is an appalling attack on the right of pregnant women to take on high-profile leadership roles in government or business.

“It echoes the outdated sexist view that women can’t be good mothers and also good at their jobs … Clearly, maternity or paternity cover arrangements need to be put in place for ministers, that’s important but far from impossible.

“It just goes to show that if in power on their own, the Tories would revert to type and risk the good work we have done in coalition.”

Jo also tweeted:

She knows how it feels to attract the Mail’s disapproval. I remember one of their columnists complaining that ministers should be serving the country and not even having sex. The female ones, that would be.

No wonder women are turning to the Liberal Democrats in droves as party polling, reported in the Guardian, reveals:

The polls show a boost in the party standing in the last six months especially among women and voters aged 18 to 34. The switchers are mainly coming from Tories or undecideds, and predominantly in Tory-held seats.

In some seats there is a swing of as much as 18% to the Lib Dems among women and younger voters.

Women in politics face sexism whatever party they are in. It’s good to see them come to each other’s aid to call it out.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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28 Comments

  • Denis Mollison 25th Feb '15 - 10:06am

    Well done Jo! Good to see cross-party support on a matter of principle, and I’d like to believe as Caron suggests that it’s winning us votes.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Feb '15 - 10:09am

    If the job demands full attention, how come so many tories have lucrative second jobs?

    I’ve heard it all before. Men who have spent half their working life on the golf course complaining that women can’t give a responsible job their full attention.

  • Remember in 2010 when the Daily Mail went apoplectic and Tory backbenchers’ murmured criticism made headline news as David Cameron took time off after the birth of his daughter Florence just weeks after becoming Prime Minister? No, me neither, because it didn’t happen.

    Well, no, but then criticising the Prime Minister’s personal life is hardly a great career move.

    On the other hand Ed Davey was roasted for taking paternity leave when he was energy secretary:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/greenpolitics/10643225/Energy-secretary-criticised-for-taking-paternity-leave-as-storms-hit-Britain.html

    As was Matthew Hancock when he was a business minister:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2331396/Im-taking-months-paternity-leave-boasts-Tory-business-minister.html

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Feb ’15 – 10:09am
    “…..I’ve heard it all before. Men who have spent half their working life on the golf course complaining that women can’t give a responsible job their full attention.”

    Well said, Jayne Mansfield. That is of course why women are banned from so many golf courses.

  • If the job demands full attention, how come so many tories have lucrative second jobs

    ‘The job’ he was referring to was being a cabinet minister, wasn’t it, not just being an MP? Those are rather different things. It does, presumably, take a lot more time to be a cabinet minister than to just be an MP, so it makes sense that a backbencher might have time to do a second job in the bits which the ministers spend on their ministerial duties.

  • Tsar Nicholas 25th Feb '15 - 12:05pm

    Having read the Crossman Diaries and other accounts of minister/civil service relations I think the criticisms of Reeves are justified. Politics is about power and treating a ministerial job like it’s a position at a supermarket checkout tells me a lot about why Lib Dems failed in their quest not to be submerged by the Tories after 2010.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th Feb '15 - 12:43pm

    Tsar Nicholas, no woman should be discriminated against for being pregnant or taking maternity leave. End of. It doesn’t matter what the job is.

  • no woman should be discriminated against for being pregnant or taking maternity leave

    Agreed. But the corollary is that parents shouldn’t get preferential treatment over non-parents, right?

    So if someone (of either sex) comes in and says, ‘a month after starting the job I’ll be taking three months of paternity / maternity leave, is that okay?’ the answer has to be the same as if they had said, ‘a month after starting the job I’ll be taking three months off to go trekking in the Andes, is that okay?’

  • Tsar Nicholas.
    I wish more MPs second jobs did involve things like working at a supermarket checkout rather than in consultancy position where there is the possibility of a conflict on interests. Maybe they would not be so widely seen as out of touch or even a little shifty.
    Very typical of The Mail of the species. Well done for highlighting it, Caron.

  • Bill le Breton 25th Feb '15 - 2:56pm

    Is it true that Survation has said that the polling was conducted by them on a ‘field and tab’ basis and that we wrote and ordered the questions without their input. If this is so, how certain are we that: ” women are turning to the Liberal Democrats in droves as party polling, reported in the Guardian, reveals:

    ” The polls show a boost in the party standing in the last six months especially among women and voters aged 18 to 34. The switchers are mainly coming from Tories or undecideds, and predominantly in Tory-held seats.

    In some seats there is a swing of as much as 18% to the Lib Dems among women and younger voters.”

    If we have used evidence from a VI question that follows testing on our positive statements about out candidates and negative statements about the policies of our opponents, how can we rely on this data to suggest the extent of such switching????

    And have we just alienated the Guardian and all those other journalists who we selectively fed this story?

  • Bill le Breton

    And have we just alienated the Guardian and all those other journalists who we selectively fed this story?

    You’ve certainly alienated Survation, who have, quite remarkably, put out a press release dissociating themselves from the survey results and not too subtly questioning the analysis.

  • Bill Le Breton

    Whatever the phantom briefer said to The Guardian it has to be taken with a large helping of salt. Polls at the moment do not seem to confirm what the briefer was saying.

    Don Brind in The Week points up contradictory messages —

    “… Survation poll gives Labour a six-point lead over the Tories: Con 28 (down 3), Lab 34 (up 4), Lib Dems 10 (up 3), Ukip 19 (down 4), Greens 4 (down 1). 

    But just as we had two polls going in different directions yesterday, so we have ‘poller opposites’ again today: YouGov for The Sun has the Tories two points ahead of Labour: Con 35 (up 2), Lab 33 (unchanged), Lib Dems 6 (down 2) Ukip 14 (down 1), Greens 7 (u/c).
    In short, you have to conclude that with 71 days to go, Labour and the Conservatives remain neck-and-neck.”

    So why does it make sense for the topof our party to reserve most of their attacks for Labour?
    An odd sort of “equidistance” ?

    Read more: http://www.theweek.co.uk/general-election-2015/62678/record-number-of-brits-favour-staying-in-eu-as-ukip-sinks#ixzz3SlnX75aO

  • David Allen 25th Feb '15 - 5:40pm

    Three months maternity leave is a much bigger break than Cameron’s brief period of paternity leave. We absolutely must not discriminate against women – or indeed, against a man who decides to take a similarly large break in order to look after a baby. But it should be acknowledged that there is an issue to be dealt with, and that maternity / paternity cover for a Minister should be something more than just appointing a temporary replacement into the post.

  • Tsar Nicholas 25th Feb '15 - 5:48pm

    Caron Lindsay25th Feb ’15 – 12:43pm

    “Tsar Nicholas, no woman should be discriminated against for being pregnant or taking maternity leave. End of. It doesn’t matter what the job is.”

    I agree, but opponents and enemies of Ms Reeves won’t see it that way, be they in her own party, the civil service or other parties.

  • Dav 25th Feb ’15 – 11:54am

    ‘The job’ he was referring to was being a cabinet minister, wasn’t it, not just being an MP? Those are rather different things. It does, presumably, take a lot more time to be a cabinet minister than to just be an MP, so it makes sense that a backbencher might have time to do a second job in the bits which the ministers spend on their ministerial duties…..

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Feb '15 - 6:20pm

    There’s nothing wrong with pregnant women taking cabinet jobs. But we need to be able to have an open debate about gender roles without people getting outraged so easily.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Feb '15 - 7:55pm

    ‘ I don’t expect Rachel Reeves to be in the cabinet after the election because I expect the Conservatives to win, but people clearly need to be put in positions they can handle’.

    Quite so Mr Rosindell, which begs the question how did we got cabinet ministers who in my opinion made such a pigs ear of the reorganisation of the health service health and of education?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th Feb '15 - 8:17pm

    @expats: I didn’t think ministers were allowed to hold any directorships, or at least that all their interests were put into blind trusts, so I’d be very wary about making any claims about any individual minister unless you can substantiate them. I’ve removed that bit of your comment in the interim.

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Feb '15 - 8:39pm

    @ jedibeefrix,
    I don’t know where the Liberal Democrats stand on this, either.

    I know where I stand on it though. What I find interesting when arguing that there is nothing wrong with having second jobs, is that many of these so called ‘outside interests’ seem to be very narrow in range, ( looking at the jobs that were held by some of David Cameron’s shadow cabinet before December 2009), directorships of companies and banks, consultancies etc., and rightly or wrongly, this raises in my mind, a concern about possible conflict of interests. This is something that doesn’t cross my mind when the ‘second job’ is caring for one’s own baby. One is not comparing like for like, especially when caring for a baby does not bring in a fortune but definitely costs one!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th Feb '15 - 8:44pm

    This is the Survation press release Bill and G were talking about. A little more anodyne than I was expecting, I have to say. http://survation.com/in-reference-to-recent-liberal-democrat-polling-shared-privately-with-the-media/

  • On the contrary, Caron, it is astonishingly forthright for a company that might hope to get even more money out of a client by conducting further polls for them. They know what has been done and are clearly saying what has been put out in the Guardian is not being described accurately. Their reputation matters to them. I wish I was as sure that our leader’s fellow travellers have the same view of the importance of the reputation of the Lib Dems.

  • From the Guardian report: “The party strategists’ decision selectively to share the private polling conducted by Survation is in part an attempt to show strong local performance will prevent a serious wipeout despite dire national polls.”

    From the rejoinder by Survation: “In reference to polls conducted for the Liberal Democrats, which have been described in the Guardian, New Statesman and others as “private polling conducted by Survation”, we would like to clarify that the role of Survation in these polls was that of “field and tab” only. Survation were not responsible for drafting the questionnaires used, sampling design discussions or analysis of the results. These polls should therefore not properly be described as “Survation polls”. ”

    I think that clears that up, then!

  • Caron Lindsay 25th Feb ’15 – 8:17pm …@expats: I didn’t think ministers were allowed to hold any directorships, or at least that all their interests were put into blind trusts, so I’d be very wary about making any claims about any individual minister unless you can substantiate them. I’ve removed that bit of your comment in the interim….

    Caron, please accept my apologies if I’ve put you, and LDV, in an awkward position…However, may I refer you to the Daily Telegraph article on 27th May 2012 ( Cabinet is worth £70million)…regards

  • Shirley Campbell 1st Mar '15 - 1:33am

    All about them, all about them, yet again. Greedy, selfish women, yet again. Yet again, greedy, selfish women promoting the view that they are indispensable. The women who are indispensable are those who seek to ensure that the children they gave birth to are properly fed and nurtured. I do not want pretentious, selfish women representing me or my country. Women have a choice and, given that our planet is overpopulated, we need women in power who do not think that they have to produce “mini mes” to gain respect.

  • So, yes, exactly the same. Well done you. I just hope that your attitude to your own kids – should you have them – is rahter different

    In case you missed it, the whole point is that I don’t have kids, and I don’t see why people who choose to have them should get special treatment over those of us who don’t.

    If you have a kid and want to spend time with it*, why can’t you take it out of your annual leave like the rest of us have to when we want to spend time doing something other than working?

    * Obviously a women needs time to physically recover from giving birth, I don’t begrudge anyone that, it’s the time that parents choose to take off that should be treated the same as time us non-parents choose to take off.

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