If you haven’t read it already, I would strongly recommend reading Ruth Bright’s excellent article on Lib Dem Voice, None shall be enslaved by maternity. That rattling you hear is the sound of some of this party’s skeletons being thrown out the cupboard onto a hard, ceramic floor.
I am appalled that people in our party have behaved in such an appalling way towards PPCs who have just given birth. Ruth states how her local party chair insisted she deal with correspondence two days after the major trauma of an emergency caesarean and while her baby was still very sick. It’s worth pointing out that had Ruth been employed by the Party she would not have been allowed by law to work within 2 weeks of giving birth.
As a result of what Ruth has written, I think the party needs to look very carefully at how it can avoid situations like this in the future. First of all, a suggestion I made in the comments was that we should have a bank of people who can be called on to step in to deal with things like correspondence if a PPC needs to take time out for whatever reason. I’m thinking of things like illness, relationship breakdown, the incapacity or death of a parent or other family member as well as maternity leave. Life can get in the way of politics sometimes – and you just can’t avoid it. If a PPC needs to take time out, they should be able to do so without recrimination.
There are plenty experienced former candidates out there who, for whatever reason, are not interested in standing any more. Why not try to recruit some of them to form an emergency “bank” of people who could provide cover in the circumstances I’ve outlined above?
I think the party also needs to do a bit more for candidate welfare. We need to ensure local parties and candidates have an idea of what’s expected of them – and what sort of behaviour will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Candidates need to have someone they can go to if they are subject to unreasonable demands, someone who will step in and, gently, at first, explain the facts of life to their local party.
We absolutely can’t stand by and watch talented candidates take the sort of sexist bullying Ruth was subjected to.
Ruth also says she had to go and breastfeed her baby in toilets at an event. This should never, ever happen. The party should state that all its training sessions, and conferences, wherever, are breastfeeding friendly. If people have a problem with that, then, frankly, tough. They are not obliged to look. There were the odd few in the East Midlands who were a little resistant to the idea of me breastfeeding Anna. I took to sitting behind them so they would never know what I was doing.
I am fairly certain that sexist behaviour exists in other parties – and, in fact, in Council procedures too. I once heard a tale of a committee chair who thought (sadly rightly) was miscarrying yet the officials would not let her leave the room because chairs just didn’t in that particular council. That’s equally unacceptable.
Do you have any other ideas as to how we can avoid the sort of situation Ruth described?