Jo Swinson on shared parental leave: “It means mums might go back to work earlier and dads might get to spend more time with their children”

swinson and hamesThere was an in-depth interview with Jo Swinson, Lib Dem business minister, in Tuesday’s London Evening Standard – her first interview since returning from maternity leave, having given birth. You can read the full feature here, but snippets below…

Jo Swinson on her (and Duncan Hames’) baby being the first carried through the voting lobby of the Commons:

“Given that we’re still voting until 10pm on a Monday, that makes our lives slightly easier. It saves you having to leave the baby with a stranger.” Is Swinson pleased it was a male MP who was the first to do this? “Yes. Having a baby has an impact on dads too — and people don’t always recognise that.”

… on shared parental leave:

“Until now, the Government has been effectively sending a message that it’s mothers’ work to look after children and fathers’ work to do the bread-winning,” Swinson argues. “But many families want to share the responsibilities much more equally these days. It means mums might go back to work earlier and dads might get to spend more time with their children.” She reels off a string of benefits: for parent-baby bonding, child development and boosting the status of women in the workplace. … Currently, there’s been only a tiny take-up for the additional paternity leave the Coalition introduced three years ago. Why will shared parental leave be different? “The current system is very rigid: men can only take paternity leave after the baby is six months old, and then the mother loses all ability to take any more leave. The new system is much more flexible. The parents can take time together and the mother can go back to work for a short time — to keep her hand in and her skills and confidence up — and then she can take more time off.”

… on sexism in Westminster:

Swinson says she’s never experienced explicit sexism, but she has experienced ageism (she was the “baby of the House” when she entered Parliament in 2005, aged 25). “That might have been related [to sexism] — perhaps some of those comments wouldn’t have been directed at me were I a young man.”

… on the lack of women Lib Dem MPs:

Swinson is one of just seven female Lib-Dem MPs — meaning the party has the lowest percentage of women of the three main political parties. She concedes that their record in this area is poor, but notes that progress is slow partly because of a small turnover of MPs and an absence of safe seats: “The times when both the Conservatives and Labour made a big step forward is when they had a big intake of new MPs: for Labour, 1997, for the Conservatives, 2010. The biggest challenge is incumbency: if you have an MP already elected, they’re pretty much going to be the candidate next time.”

… on her opposition to all-women short-lists:

She claims the problem for the Lib Dems isn’t one of sexism in selection, it’s that many more men want to be candidates. “We need to get more women coming forward — that’s not just a Lib-Dem problem, it’s a wider societal issue. Sometimes we also focus too much on the barriers for women: the message that gets sent out is that it’s bad to be a woman in politics. Actually, it’s a really enjoyable area to work in.”

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  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Aug '14 - 11:05am

    I just find some of Jo Swinson’s arguments so feeble.

    She has never met sexism in Parliament? The whole way that Parliament is structured and run is sexist!

    It is not that we don’t focus too much on the barriers for women, it is that we do not focus on them enough. We have a Parliament that is organised in such a way that it couldn’t do more to dis- incentivise women for pursuing a career in politics.

  • Kay Kirkham 7th Aug '14 - 3:01pm

    It’s deeply depressing to find, once again, a successful women who opposes all-women short lists. Of course we need to get more women coming forward but all the evidence is that all-women short lists results in more women MPs.

    This is at least the third iteration of this debate in the 30+ years I have been in active politics and on each occasion the argument has been that women will get selected and elected on their own merits and no special measures are needed. ( Apart from some training, encouragement and mentoring )

    It didn’t work 30 years ago and it isn’t working now. The one thing which did work was ‘zipping’ for the first Euros held under list system. And that had started to unravel before the recent disaster.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Aug '14 - 1:42pm

    This article show that Jo Swinson listens to other people’s concerns. A lot of men are concerned by the ideology that paints us as oppressors and proposes authoritarian action against us as a solution. We also point out that this doesn’t help women because first of all it is unpopular, but secondly it exaggerates traditional male characteristics such as “strength”, or as Jo points out here “the message that gets sent out is that it’s bad to be a woman in politics. Actually, it’s a really enjoyable area to work in.”.


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