Archive | August, 2019

Spending more time with our families …

29 Aug

As Ruth Davidson steps down from the Conservative leadership in Scotland, citing the primary reason as being her commitment to her young son and the family life that top-flight politicians so frequently find it hard to balance with the rigours of campaigning, travelling and irregular working hours, I was struck by the difference that her being a woman has made to the accompanying discussion.

When male politicians resign ‘to spend more time with their family’ it is often treated as a kind of euphemism.  We routinely assume that they have committed politics. Or, find out that they have had an affair, that makes their position somehow untenable.  Either way, the ‘excuse’ is seen as standing for something else.  And in the case of affairs, it’s often met with a collective eyeroll, and the schadenfreude comments about how the wife must be delighted to have him around more …

However, when Davidson remarked that her son’s arrival in November had made her reassess her feelings about leadership and the possibility of future campaigning, with all the separations from home that that entails, the one thing people do not seem to have done, is disbelieve her account completely.  Sure, she’s known to disgree with Boris Johnson on a range of issues, and may even disapprove of his decision to prorogue Parliament, though she did not overtly say so.  But the pull of a child aged under one for its mother, has largely been viewed as a ‘real’ element of the story, in a way that is not broadly characteristic of treatment of men resigning for ‘family reasons’.

In the event, Ruth Davidson entered into the current Brexit crisis only in so far as to say that MPs should back PM Johnson’s (somewhat opaque) efforts to secure a new deal with the EU. In this way, she said, they could avoid the spectre of No Deal.  No criticism was made of the Prime Minister’s strategy – possibly another sign that a General Election may happen, and Davidson would be aware of the significance for her UK party, of retaining a Conservative presence in Scotland.

Over on Radio 4, towards the end of the PM programme, two women who happen to be mothers and involved in political commentary – Hannah White of the Institute for Government, an authoritative think tank, and Zoe Williams, the Guardian columnist – took part in a discussion about the issues in balancing career and family life.  They noted that there is still much more to be done to support female MPs in the midst of early parenthood, as the template of of work assumes a level of availability that is hard to maintain without resources of alternative care, and – especially relevant for Scottish and other far-flung representatives – proximity to place of work.  Making full parental leave available to both male and female parliamentarians would potentially mitigate against all these factors impacting female politicians disproportionately.  I have often written about these structural issues, and they do bring us back to some of the geographic and economic inequalities which have some role in how we got into the wider political turmoil we are all now part of …

Back with Ruth Davidson’s announcement, and the coverage it has received, which provides yet another example of the differential treatment of men and women in public life: she as truth-telling about work-life balance, men as finding an expedient getaway.  We could, alternatively, believe, that Davidson, like her male counterparts, is using ‘family reasons’ as political cover.  And if we did, that might be viewed as very of the moment ..













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