Night after night her pillow talk is about how wonderful women MPs are. They work harder and have greater empathy with constituents than I. Their rooms are tidier, their egos smaller, but they also devote more time to spouses and children than I ever did. At this point the lecture usually degenerates into "men exploit women", or "men just don't understand". I must clean lavatories and boil eggs as well as represent Grimsby.
It is possible to view the arrival of 121 women MPs as a triumph of feminism, bringing in efficient superwomen who'll change the Commons, terrify ageing male chauvinists into impotence or better sexual manners (I am never sure what women want), turn noisy male politics into serious discussion where people network rather than clash, care rather than clamour, serve rather then swank, and all ego is dead. Particularly if it's male.
Total tosh. The chamber is brighter and doesn't smell as bad. There are a few stunners (though politics is showbiz for the ugly),more women's toilets and a unisex hairdresser. Yet they've let the Modernisation Committee get away with doing nothing and when it came to supporting single parent sisters, women proved as nasty as men. The fact is politicians are all careerists.
This Parliament isn't feminised, it's ordinaryised, more representative of M&S Britain as a whole than any since 1945. Not completely representative, of course: no poor, fewer disabled, fewer Sun and more Guardian readers. This is Great Britain Metropolitan District Council. Demosthenes is replaced by council-style mumbles. More women is only a part of more normal.
The problems aren't those of women adjusting to a male world but of normal folk adjusting to a madhouse. An MP has several functions: local ombudsman, constituency booster, television personality, public relations officer (particularly for ourselves), legislator, specialist, trainee minister, overpaid social worker and universal grief counsellor. All these jobs are done in impossible conditions with "Abandon Home All Ye Who Enter Here" engraved over parliamentary portals. The Commons is designed to keep wives, mistresses, constituents, lunatics and creditors at bay (like an allotment shed) and the life style is abnormal: in London during the week, in the constituency at the weekend, with home and family a poor third. Indeed, no one's sure where spouses and families should be: in London to share the misery, in the constituencies to share the work, or in a safe hiding place to be neglected. Absence saves some marriages but breaks more and ensures argument and tension for all.
In the Good Old Days (which in Parliament usually means the 19th century but we can take to be 20 years ago), marriages either had one dominant will (usually the man's) or there was a division of roles, and life, into his and hers. This still survives in the Tory party. Elsewhere relationships are more equal. Wives will no longer sacrifice themselves to MP husbands. Labour's women are no doubt married to perfect new men but the strain of leaving them at home or employing them in the Commons as secretary/researcher/dogsbody produces tensions which won't be assuaged by keeping the secretarial allowance in the family.
I've seen several of the new chums, male and female, develop worry lines and lose hair. It's inevitable. Doing the job properly means running a small business of secretaries, researchers, word processors and computers. The work gets harder every year as the mail and the problems multiply. Party isn't a support mechanism, it's another demand, with MPs sent away to nurture constituencies, promote New Deals and preach the word.
Some will make it and become the Teresa Gormans, the Dennis Skinners, even the Tony Blairs (though not the William Hagues - he'll still be there) of the next generation. Some will grow fat and pompous. A few will realise it's all been a terrible mistake and get out. Several will be chucked on to the job market next time, their careers ruined. But most will hang on, brightness fading, disillusion growing, only duty keeping them at the job despite its near impossibility.
Male and female, we're just ordinary people struggling to do an extraordinary job. My advice to the new chums is calculate the odds. With a reasonable chance of getting the consolation prize of a job, work hard and keep your nose clean. If you're likely to lose your seat next time, don't attempt the impossible. Play the media. Become an entertainer. Use the platform to make a noise. Any will do. Rebel. Have a sexual fling. Above all enjoy. The rest is death.
Thomas Creevey returns next weekReuse content