A group of senior Labour women are to launch a new campaign to give mothers the resources to run for parliament, amid concerns that the prevailing Westminster culture puts women off standing while their children are young.
In an attempt to revisit a successful campaign that helped boost the proportion of female Labour candidates in the 1990s, a group of MPs, former ministers and peers from the left and right of the party are backing a plan to end what they describe as a “motherhood penalty” in the party’s selection process. It follows claims by some potential candidates that they have been asked who is going to look after their children while they are fighting for a seat.
Among those backing the campaign are Cherie Blair, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti and former home secretary Jacqui Smith, who will all help select potential candidates. The campaign, set up by Labour MP Stella Creasy, has been dubbed “MotheRED”. It comes months after Creasy was reprimanded for taking her three-month-old son along in a sling when she spoke in parliament late last year. She subsequently asked for urgent clarification of the rules.
The organisers of the campaign said that, according to research by the Good Parliament Project, men with young children are as likely to stand or be elected as their peers, while women with young children remain underrepresented. It has been launched to coincide with Mothering Sunday. The successful candidates will be given a grant towards the costs of childcare and standing for election, and will also have to commit to backing a series of family-friendly policies on paternity leave, flexible working and childcare provision.
The move comes after the party stated that childcare costs would be excluded from the cap on spending during selections. Selections for the next election are expected to intensify after local polls in May. “It’s good to see the party recognise that childcare during a selection process shouldn’t be part of a cap” said Creasy. “But finding the cash to cover these costs is still a barrier to participation for mums if you don’t have the extra money.
“So many women tell us they get challenged about their status as a mum during selections and asked who is looking after their children. MotheRED is about tackling the culture in the party which means many brilliant women end up not standing or waiting until their children are much older – so we miss out on their talent in the parliamentary Labour party – and making sure more family-friendly policies like universal childcare are on the agenda.”
The campaign, which is open for applications from Sunday and will raise a war chest through crowdfunding, echoes the Emily’s List effort of the 1990s, which helped MPs including Smith win seats at the 1997 election.
“Getting selected to stand for election is lonely and tough,” said Smith. “When I received financial support from Emily’s List at the very start of my political career, I got an enormous practical boost to help with the costs, and a psychological boost knowing that other women recognised the hill I had to climb.”
Chakrabarti added that the party which introduced all-women shortlists almost 30 years ago “must innovate once more”.
The final list of candidates receiving support will be chosen by a 30-strong group of MotheRED ambassadors. The candidates will be expected to support policies including affordable childcare, a reformed benefits system and ringfenced paternity leave.