First-year report on Westminster from the class of '92: Before the general election, 21 women told us why they were candidates. A year on, three of them, now MPs, give Penny Jackson their first impressions
Tuesday 06 April 1993
I was thrown in at the deep end and had to swim. As health and community care spokesman, I manage to speak a lot. I had to ask a question before my maiden speech.
I love speaking. It's why I am a politician and why I became an actress. My mother ran a home for disabled people and that made an enormous impression on me. I wanted to be a voice for them and set my mind on doing plays with a message.
My voice-training has helped me enormously. I don't notice when people shout while I am speaking. A job I once did at Butlin's couldn't have been a better preparation - youths at the back shouting, the crushing of crisp packets and Tannoy announcements. I haven't needed to use my full acting voice, but I know that I can make my voice louder than anyone so I am bound to be heard.
I do get angry with the antics. Some MPs behave like children - 'look at me, notice me'. It is demeaning and insults constituents. It takes away the seriousness of the message. I was angry and upset during the Budget debate at the party political point- scoring. I know an 85-year-old woman who has to stay in bed until midday to keep warm. I even know what that's like. It is not a political game. But the rants always get the coverage, reasonable people aren't covered in debates.
It has been an exhausting year, but extremely rewarding. It would have been tremendously difficult for a woman with family commitments.
TESSA JOWELL, 45, Labour MP for Dulwich
What I dislike most about the House of Commons is that nobody will admit they have been wrong. Someone always has to win. I find it an ugly part of the adversarial system.
I enjoy speaking in the Chamber - it can be an unbelievably exhilarating place. But it can also be extremely ill-mannered. The tactic of ministers who put their feet up on the dispatch box is pure boys' prep school insolence. If this is how people see us behaving, it's no wonder they imagine we don't work for our living.
Initially I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work - I get about 150 letters a day. Being a good constituency case-worker is extremely important to me.
Sometimes I still feel as though I have been cast into the middle of a fast-flowing stream. You do have a sense of not belonging to yourself. It is difficult to keep a semblance of a normal family life, but I have wonderful support at home. My husband is always there for the children in the evening when I am not and I never miss anything that is important to them. My children are proud that I'm an MP but also very private about it. I came up as a subject of a 20 questions quiz at my daughter's school and she was very upset. She doesn't want everyone to know. But they come periodically to the House of Commons for supper and they love that.
We will not get more women with children in seats a long way from London until Parliament is organised along different lines. Women consider being an MP as a job, not a way of life.
ANGELA KNIGHT, 42, Conservative MP for Erewash
It was my son's sixth birthday the day after the election so at 5.30 in the morning I found myself building a Lego harbour with him and that takes a good hour or so.
The children take our routine in their stride. I don't leave Sheffield for London until Monday morning. I call them every morning and evening and we chat on and on. On Friday mornings they rush to get into bed with Mum. The six-year-old comes with me to my surgery and to events that I think he will enjoy, perhaps where there are other children.
Families are very important, but you can organise your life so that you don't end up with competing demands. Our holidays are the same as the schools' and the children come to London for half-term. They love coming to the House of Commons, standing on the window seats and bird-watching.
I know that this is a male- dominated place, but I am used to working with a lot of men. I'm as bad as the rest of them bawling and shouting, but the issues are very important and you have to jump up and say how it is.
What would be better for those of us who are not London MPs would be longer working days with an earlier finish on Thursdays, so that we could get off to our constituencies. That would really make a difference.
I don't believe you can join an institution and then immediately set about changing it. It needs to evolve gradually so it works in the way the rest of the world works.
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