At 8:20 this morning I made my first ever foray into the world of the Today programme, talking about something that should never really have been a story – the fuss over Jo Swinson’s lack of a seat at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
If you look at who did most of the kicking up of fuss, the Daily Mail, then their track record on women is not the best, as I wrote on Liberal Democrat Voice last night.
What was getting quite worrying is that Jo Swinson’s views were not being properly represented. She does not think that offering a seat to a pregnant woman is sexist and she tweeted so last night.
About to get on the tube – seat offers welcome & definitely not sexist :o) But I was happier standing at pmqs yesterday
— Jo Swinson (@joswinson) October 17, 2013
The way Twitter was going on, you’d think she’d said quite the opposite. I could just imagine playing Trivial Pursuit in 10 years’ time and finding a question “Which Equalities Minister said it was sexist to offer a seat to a pregnant woman?” and then getting all enraged like Ross did over his sandwich in Friends.
Even today, when there was no possible excuse to do so, Cristina Odone published a highly uncharitable piece in the Telegraph entitled “Does Jo Swinson hate women?” in which she repeated the false assertion. Two tweets from me just to make things clear:
But back to the point. I’d gone to bed last night when I noticed a tweet from the Today programme asking me to ring them. After a bit of going back and forth with midnight phone calls and me sneaking downstairs and firing up my laptop because I couldn’t remember my Skype name, it was arranged that I’d take part in a discussion with James Forsyth, the Political Editor of the Spectator.
It was actually quite a good natured discussion. James and I were not far away from each other. The only difference I could see was that I didn’t think our lot were being deliberately rude because I reckoned they were all looking away from Jo towards the pantomime at the other end of the Chamber. I didn’t, by the way, get to slip in that in Scotland and Wales we have modern parliaments where every member has their own desk, and we don’t have the antiquated voting system that involves standing in a lobby for much longer than Jo was standing at Question Time.
I also said that it was a pity that, out of all the things Jo had done this week, this fleeting moment was what we were all talking about. I mean, she’s done stuff about getting more women into science and technology, to penalise rogue employers who lose at tribunals, to speaking at a conference on shared parental leave to working on consumer rights. She also fitted in a campaign trip to Dunfermline where the only sign of her pregnancy was that people were actually sometimes able to keep up with her as she knocked on doors.
I was asked people were worried about offering seats to women for fear of being branded sexist. I said that the world would be a better place if we all showed each other a bit of empathy and looked to see if others needed our seat more. I also said that when I was pregnant, the time I most needed a seat was during the first 3 months when I was hit by nausea and exhaustion when I didn’t have a bump. I open doors for anybody and I give up my seat if there is someone around us who needs it more.
Anyway, you can listen to the whole thing here.