Webchat with Nicky Morgan, Jo Swinson and Gloria De Piero

Our recent political culture survey revealed that most of you think Westminster is sexist, not family-friendly, and only allows you to get on in politics if you're ambitious, connected, ruthless, rich and male.

You also told us that you think the political culture in Westminster doesn't lead to politicians being able to take effective decisions about policies that will change people's lives for the better. And you told us that most of you (around two-thirds) would never consider standing for political office.

We had a webchat with three female MPs from the three main parties to discuss this and other findings from the survey. The MPs are, from left to right: 

Nicky Morgan - Conservative MP for Loughborough, and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Women's Minister

Jo Swinson - the Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, and the Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations and the junior Equalities Minister

Gloria De Piero - the Labour MP for Ashfield and Shadow Minister for Women and Equality

MPs

Q. TeWiSavesTheDay: I'd like to know how each of you got your jobs, and what steps you'd recommend women who'd like to get more involved and maybe stand to be an MP themselves?

A. Nicky Morgan: I was a solicitor before I was elected in 2010. I'd never worked in politics or Parliament before. I joined the party when I was 16 and simply helped others knock on lots of doors for years. Then in 1999 I thought I would like to have a go at being an MP.

"Politics is crying out for more women and people from ordinary backgrounds"Gloria De Piero

Once I got on the candidates list I then applied for constituencies, much like applying for any other job and I was picked by the local party to fight Islington South in 2001 and Loughborough in 2004 and 2006. So, the first step is just to get involved in your local party.

A. Gloria De Piero: The truth is I couldn’t get a job in politics when I was in my early 20s. I applied to MPs, think tanks, unions but no one would give me a job. I found it easier to get a job in the media – one of the most notoriously difficult careers to break into! In February 2010 the MP for Ashfield stood down and within days I’d packed a bin-liner and gone to Ashfield hoping that the Ashfield Party would select me as their candidate – and yes, you need an incredibly supportive partner! But I wouldn’t have stood for just any seat, I wanted to represent somewhere where the people are like me and I’m like them.

Politics is crying out for more women and more people from ordinary backgrounds and there is support. In the Labour Party we’ve got something called the future candidates programme which gives training and mentoring to labour members from under-represented backgrounds who are interested in standing.

A. Jo Swinson: I joined the Lib Dems at university. After I graduated, friends in the party persuaded me to stand for Parliament and I did so in 2001 as I thought it would be an interesting experience, though I was working in marketing for a radio station at the time and didn’t actually want to be an MP. During the campaign I realised I was much more passionate about campaigning for changes I wanted to see in our country than about getting more people to listen to Viking FM (fab radio station though it was and is!), and I decided to pursue politics more seriously. To cut a long story short I moved back home to East Dunbartonshire, won the contest to become the Lib Dem candidate and then worked incredibly hard to get elected in 2005.

If you’re interested in working as an elected politician, I’d recommend looking at the different parties and working out which most aligns with your views, then joining and getting stuck in with campaigning and community work – the processes for becoming approved as a candidate and then being chosen for a particular constituency vary in each party, but there are organisations in each party that can provide further advice on the best ways to do this.

There are other jobs in politics too, and alongside Hazel Blears MP and Eric Ollerenshaw MP I helped set up a scheme to provide paid placements for people from under-represented background to work in Parliament (www.speakerscheme.co.uk). You can also find lots of political jobs advertised at www.w4mp.org.

Q. Crumblemum: OK so the problem is pretty well documented. Politicians by and large (present company excepted) just aren't that attractive. They don't seem to know much about everyday life, but at the same time seem to think they know EVERYTHING. They either seem to be not listening or shouting.

The problems seem so entrenched it will take a long time to improve (sorry to be pessimistic), but what one thing do you think could improve the situation?

A. Gloria De Piero: Couldn’t agree more. When I got this job the first thing I did was to go out across the country to listen to what women were saying, because as politicians we don’t do enough listening and learning.

If there’s one thing I’d like to change about politics it would be that it’s ok to say "I don’t know". The most off-putting thing is when politicians avoid answering the question rather than saying "I don’t know", or if they sound like they’re reading from a pre-prepared script. It puts people off politics and people getting involved in politics because they feel like they need to know the answer to EVERYTHING, when actually the most important attribute is that you feel passionate about representing your neighbourhood, community and country.

"A more representative Parliament would have more credibility with the public and reflect and respond to the concerns of our country better." Jo Swinson

A. Jo Swinson: If I had to choose one thing I’d say get more women elected. While it wouldn’t be a panacea to the problems of the political disconnect, I think a more representative Parliament would have more credibility with the public and reflect and respond to the concerns of our country better.

Q. JugglingFromHereToThere: I'd just like to say that I feel there's a lot more to politics than Westminster - so much is achieved by campaigning groups, charities, and by local communities to effect real changes in people's lives both at home and around the world.

So a question - do you think people, especially the younger generation, are becoming increasingly bored and disengaged with the narrow politics of Westminster? And perhaps putting their energies and abilities elsewhere to achieve change?

A. Nicky Morgan: I certainly think that younger people are becoming more engaged by particular issues rather than joining a party. Campaigning groups do achieve change and the good ones get their points across well. But ultimately it is MPs as law makers who can really change things and that is why I wanted to be elected and why we need more women here.

Q. JugglingFromHereToThere: Thanks Nicky. I guess it's quite worrying too when a large percentage of the population opt out of the principal part of the democratic process by not voting in elections? I'm sure more diversity of MPs at Westminster, including more women, would help with this at least somewhat.

A. Nicky Morgan: Entirely agree - one of my most important tasks, I think, as the MP for Loughborough is visiting local schools and trying to enthuse pupils about voting and politics and Parliament.

"What I find really frustrating is that male MPs never seem to get asked about how they manage to balance their work and family lives." Jo Swinson

Q. Frances5050: How can we get 178 more women MPs in the House of Commons (from a population of 32 million women, AIBU)? This would make for a more balanced, representative 50:50 Parliament, instead of the current 77:23. 

A. Nicky Morgan: Well first we need to find a lot more than 178 who want to stand because, however hard some of us work, there are some seats where a particular party is going to struggle to win. So, those of us who are here need to act as good role models and really tell people what it is like to be an MP and make it clear it is a job open to everyone. It would be great to get to 50:50 but for now I'd like to get to over 30% as that is when we start to see cultural change.

Q. Frances5050: 30% women in the House of Commons would be a start and might change the culture a bit. It would be 70 more women than we have now but still not fully representative. Neither would it be making the most of the nation's talents and experience, 50% of which are women's. How many MPs are fathers? Do you think it is good for MPs to be mothers?

A. Jo Swinson: I don't know how many MPs are fathers but anecdotally it's quite a lot. What I find really frustrating is that male MPs never seem to get asked about how they manage to balance their work and family lives. When I was pregnant I did get asked it a lot by journalists and I used to say that I'd be happy to answer it if they could tell me who the last male MP was that they asked that question to! Actually encouraging men to talk about their balancing acts too is helpful to other dads and dads-to-be, and gets away from the assumption that everything is the mother's responsibility.

Q. badooby: Does PMQs embarrass you?

"One person said PMQs was like watching Jeremy Kyle with posh people. It's the worst possible advert for politics." Gloria De Piero

A. Jo Swinson: I wish PMQs wasn't the main way that the House of Commons is depicted in the media – it doesn't make a good impression and in fact the first ever time I asked a question at PMQs it was to make the point that the Punch and Judy approach doesn't work! 

Thankfully Parliament isn’t always like that, and there are many debates that are thoughtful and conducted with much more respect on all sides. But PMQs is the weekly set piece event and while there are moments of genuine wit and sometimes very moving questions, too often it is the House of Commons at its worst, boorish, shouty and disrespectful to the public who deserve better.

A. Nicky Morgan: When people make silly noises or heckle continuously it annoys me. The concept of PMQs is good - the PM spends half an hour a week being quizzed by elected representatives on many different subjects. Other parliaments and overseas MPs are amazed when they hear about it. But I can see why it puts some people off - although, having said that, I have many constituents and friends who are desperate for tickets. I think it is good to have the debate though because MPs can just get used to things and not ask whether they actually work anymore.

A. Gloria De Piero: To be honest, badooby, it does. One person - it was a bloke actually - said it was like watching Jeremy Kyle with posh people. It's the worst possible advert for politics and the select committee system shows that it's possible to quiz ministers and get answers. I now prefer to ask written ministerial questions on behalf of constituents so ministers can't dodge the question.

  • If you'd like to call on the Prime Minister to change the fromat of PMQs which 76% of you felt was "unprofessional and outdated", please sign and share our petition, here.

 

Q. AndHarry: I'd love to work towards standing as an MP but am totally put off by the crazy working hours. Do you think it would be a good idea to have more normal working hours and holidays?

"Being an MP is undoubtedly more of a vocation than a job – if you didn’t feel really passionately about the people, issues and changes you are working for it would be pretty impossible I think given what it requires of you." Jo Swinson

A. Gloria De Piero: I love it when I hear people say they’d love to stand for Parliament. In fact, I think the fact that a third of Mumsnet members would consider it is really encouraging!

Parliament sits about 30 odd weeks a year. You can normally work it to stay away from home a maximum of three nights in those weeks. I definitely try and spend as much time as possible in my constituency because I think it’s the biggest part of my job and it’s where I feel most fulfilled.

On working hours - you only have to vote until 10pm on a Monday but even with 7pm votes you may miss bedtime if your family are based in London. I accept even this is difficult for parents, and I do think there’s a case to see if in special circumstances where MPs have caring commitments they could vote by proxy.

But that still leaves the problem of having to leave your family for half the week for more than half a year – the question is, if we were to invent Parliament today, would it look like this? Probably not. So how should we change it?

Here's a call out to Mumsnetters – if you have thoughts on how we can change the system email me on Gloria.depiero.mp@parliament.uk with Mumsnet in the subject heading and I promise to forward your ideas to the Speaker.

A. Jo Swinson: Being an MP is undoubtedly more of a vocation than a job – if you didn’t feel really passionately about the people, issues and changes you are working for it would be pretty impossible I think given what it requires of you.

There have been moves towards more sensible hours when Parliament sits – for example last year Parliament brought its Tuesday sittings forward to 11:30am – 7pm (it used to be 2:30pm – 10pm), so now Monday is the only night when you’re still voting at 10:30pm (the late start on a Monday enables people to travel to London from around the country). The workload is still intense but at least that change has given a bit more flexibility – though there are certainly plenty of MPs who want to go back to the late night sittings.

Personally I don’t see why Parliament couldn’t start earlier in the day on a Tuesday or Wednesday and be a bit more in line with the usual working day. However the nature of the job means you have to live in two places (unless your constituency is close to London) so it’s always going to be a slightly odd working pattern.

The suggestion about jobshares is an interesting one that could also be part of the solution to this issue. I think it’s an interesting idea that needs to be looked at more seriously for politics – perhaps with some kind of pilot.

The other thing we need to look at is the working hours in order to become an MP in the first place. Candidates are volunteers, so typically holding down another job at the same time. It’s right that candidates should spend time out and about speaking with the voters they want to represent, but we need to look at what parties can do better to support them so that all of the responsibility for the campaign doesn’t just fall on the candidate’s shoulders, and they have a good team around them.

Q. southwest1: Jo, you worked up to a couple of days before your son was born. Does that not show that being an MP and a mother are not really compatible?

A. Jo Swinson: I don't think so - I could have stopped earlier if I'd wanted to, and indeed I decided near the end to play it by ear as everyone's pregnancy is different. I was feeling good so carried on, though with quite a few changes to the way I worked, such as holding meetings closer to where the House of Commons votes take place so I didn't have to be physically running around. And of course the plan was for me to have nearly a week to rest before giving birth, but then my son had other ideas and arrived early!

Colleagues were really understanding and supportive throughout my pregnancy, and I think the response from co-workers can make a big difference about how manageable pregnancy and indeed parenthood is while juggling work responsibilities.

"One problem is people thinking politics doesn’t affect them, when of course it does." Jo Swinson

Q. stillstandingatthebusstop: I see a problem with politics seeming irrelevant and somehow distant from young people. For example, my first son, who has just turned 18, had no intention of voting in the May elections until I got mad and talked about how different it was in the not so distant past and how lucky he is to have a vote. So my question is, how can political parties make politics more relevant to young people?

A. Jo Swinson: One problem is people thinking politics doesn’t affect them, when of course it does. When I go to local schools I often ask "who is interested in politics?" and a few stray hands go up in the class. I then ask "who is interested in local bus services/climate change/minimum wage rates/sports facilities etc" and of course lots of hands go up, and I explain how politicians at different levels make decisions on all of these things. I don’t think there’s one silver bullet for connecting better with young people, but being accessible is part of it.

There’s also a challenge in how long it can take to achieve change sometimes – we live in a very immediate society – you vote on X Factor and someone gets eliminated the next day, whereas with the best will in the world, many of the changes that can happen through our political system can’t be as immediate.

Q. DoItTooJulia: I think that this [article: 'Why did Michael Fabricant say he wanted to punch me in the throat? In order to silence me'] contributes to why women are put off a career in Parliament.

I read it and I am horrified he has kept his job. How do you try to encourage women into a career when their colleagues behave like this and their boss minimises it?

Breaking the rules, I do have a second question: What single measure could be taken to increase women in politics, in your opinion?

A. Nicky Morgan: I cannot think what possessed him. As the PM has said - what he [MP Michael Fabricant] said was unacceptable. Some Mumsnet users will recall Austin Mitchell MP used the word "rape" totally inappropriately in a twitter post recently. I would just say that Michael Fabricant doesn't have a party/ministerial role - his job is as an MP and clearly that job is a matter for his electorate.

To answer your second question I think it is important to have more female role models in politics - something I hope Jo, Gloria and I are.

A. Gloria De Piero: You’re right, it’s completely appalling. I wrote to the Prime Minister about it saying a similar thing.  We’ll see what he says…

On to your second question... All women shortlists for all parties! It’s worked for us. Before 1997 only 168 women had ever been elected to Parliament. In 1997 when we introduced them 101 Labour women were elected in one go. It’s electric shock treatment but it works! There are more male MPs today than there have EVER been women elected to parliament.

"I think it is important to have more female role models in politics - something I hope Jo, Gloria and I are." Nicky Morgan

A. Jo Swinson: I thought Yasmin’s article was really powerful and I was shocked at the tweet too – unacceptable, especially from an elected representative. But perhaps it is an example of why we absolutely need more women in public life.

There is a danger, I think, that focusing on the barriers and problems that women face in politics can put people off. It’s right that we look at how those issues can be overcome, but I also think we need to spend more time and energy making the case for why women will actually enjoy being involved in politics. It can be hugely rewarding – I think of individual constituents whose problem I’ve resolved, or the opportunities for young people I created through a Jobs Fair and initiatives with local businesses, or as a Minister changing the law so that mums and dads can share parental leave. For all the shouty PMQs coverage, actually many of the qualities and skills needed to be an MP are ones women have in spades: cooperation, empathy, influencing others.

So if you care about your community, about issues (do you shout at Question Time on the TV? Always a good indicator I reckon!), and want to help change things, why not get involved? Obviously I’d be delighted if you want to do so as a Lib Dem - and I’m sure Tory, Labour and other party supporters would also get a warm welcome by their own parties.

Q. nameequality: Do you get much chance to get together as women in cross-party events?

I'm just thinking that if you all did it might be easier to push through things which would benefit all MPs and things which benefit all women - obviously things on which you can find a consensus! 

Also do you think that the fact that there is such a low percentage of women MPs has contributed to the fact that mothers' names are STILL not recorded on marriage certificates in England and Wales?

A. Jo Swinson: There's a fair bit of this - for example there are various all-party groups that look at various issues affecting women. There is definitely a link between who is in Parliament and which issues get dealt with. Having been on maternity leave I'm not up to date with the internal discussions on the marriage certificates issue though I have followed the campaign on social media and in the press, and my understanding is that it is being looked at seriously in government. I was quite surprised when I read about it actually, having been married in Scotland where both parents' names are recorded.

A. Nicky Morgan: Well, one of the things I discovered when I got here is that we have these All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) - and actually even in debates and committees MPs do work together especially on local issues. The APPGs allow cross party groups of MPs and members of the Lords to work on a whole variety of issues - for example before I became a minister I was very involved in the Mental Health Group. And I think Gloria is a member of that one too. MPs on all sides did work together on the vote to change the sitting hours earlier in this Parliament (we now don't sit until 10pm on Tuesdays).

To answer your second point (and a few of you asked something similar) I am sure that if there were more women we'd have more of a female perspective on a whole host of issues. The marriage certificates issue is being looked at very seriously by ministers.

A. Gloria De Piero: On an issue like getting more women into politics we all agree we need more, but not on how, but it's important that where politicians do agree with each other, we say so.

On marriage certificates - unlike Jo I haven't been on maternity leave, but I'm still confused about the government's position. Here's a blog I wrote about why.

Q. charlieandlola: At least two of you are mothers to under-fives, am I right? An MP seems incompatible with family life. My friend's husband is an MP and they rarely have a weekend when he is home uninterrupted, and then from Sunday night to Thursday he is in London.

"I refuse to accept that being an MP is incompatible with family life – we just can’t have a Parliament that is supposed to represent the public and understand the challenges people face, and then make it impossible for MPs with young children to do the job." Jo Swinson

School holidays he is at home but often travels abroad and around the country. They had to fly back last summer from their only holiday week abroad as MPs were summoned home. He has missed all his kids' birthdays for the last four years. They get shouted at in the street and their eldest is being bullied at school because of his dad's job.

Is this a true representation or is she making it all up ?

It all sounds grim and if true then why would women put themselves through that, abandon their family to be shouted at on Newsnight, jeered in the chamber and abused in the street and online?

A. Nicky Morgan: Well, Jo's son is definitely under five and my son is now six. I'm not sure if Mr Morgan is a Mumsnetter - if he is he will have a view on this. I have to be honest - it can be a 24/7 job (especially if you are also a Minister) but it is an important job and that is why we need good people to do it - MPs can change things for their constituents, their constituencies and, if possible, at a national level. There are also lots of jobs where couples work different hours or shifts and it is also a question of sharing things as a couple and prioritising making time for family.

A. Jo Swinson: I’m really sorry to hear about your friend and especially her child being bullied – that’s really horrible and whatever people think of MPs, their family are not fair game. Obviously I don’t know about that specific situation, but there are certainly elements I recognise from my own experience.

As an MP I don’t tend to get weekends off, and representing an area just north of Glasgow it does mean a lot of travel (and I now have the joys of doing that with a baby in tow… though now that I have had the flight from hell with a 1.5 hour delay on the tarmac and an inconsolable baby I’m hoping it can’t get worse than that!).

As to whether it is incompatible with family life, part of me wants to say ask me in a few months’ time, as I return to my ministerial duties this coming Monday following six months of maternity leave. But I refuse to accept that it is incompatible – we just can’t have a Parliament that is supposed to represent the public and understand the challenges people face, and then make it impossible for MPs with young children to do the job. I don’t pretend to have all the answers about how to make it work, but I’m determined to find them! Wish me luck…

Q. TheStandard: For Jo and Nicky - Labour has already made big strides with women's representation through all-women shortlists. Do you personally agree with that as a way of increasing women's presence as MPs? If not, what measures do you think should be taken (or do you not think anything should be done)?

What are your parties currently doing to increase the numbers of female MPs? Both Lib Dems and Tories have pretty lamentable records on this.

"I do think the big issue is we just aren't getting enough women coming forward" Nicky Morgan

A. Nicky Morgan: Well, I think David Cameron's policy on having an 'A' list of candidates before the 2010 election and introducing things such as gender blind CVs shows the Conservative Party is taking this very seriously. I do think the big issue is we just aren't getting enough women coming forward (which is an issue for all parties) - we are seeing more women selected now in our seats. I think we need to see where we end up in 2015 and if we are still struggling to get more women MPs then no option is off the table.

A. Jo Swinson: I think we need to understand the actual problem and then take steps to fix it. I’m not against all-women shortlists in principle – if there is sexism in the selection process stopping women becoming candidates in winnable seats then it is probably the only way to level the playing field. However when we did the research in the Lib Dems we found that women were just as likely as men to win contests for winnable seats that they applied for, but our problem was we had four or five times as many men applying as women.

We’ve invested in projects like our Campaign for Gender Balance to encourage and support more women to become candidates, and we have a Leadership Programme which supports a group of 40 candidates from under-represented backgrounds (including BME) with an intensive programme of training, mentoring and resources. Of the eight seats where we have MPs standing down next time, five have selected women candidates, without all-women shortlists.

Q. stillstandingatthebusstop: For Jo Swinson: the Liberal Democrat Party must have real problems being credible with women voters after the recent Lord Rennard scandal. How can I vote for a party that does not react strongly when its women activists are reported to be being sexually harassed?

A. Jo Swinson: There are really important issues here – both for politics and wider society. You might be interested in the speech I made to Lib Dem conference about these issues – you can watch part of it here and read the full transcript here.

Q. Darkesteyes: Slightly off topic but because decisions made in Parliament affect people's lives, all politicians should be made to undergo a psychological assessment prior to election.

A. Nicky Morgan: Wow! That would be fascinating and quite scary! Definitely one for the Whips Office to perhaps use! On a serious note we had a whole variety of tests to get on the Conservative candidates list - however, I think the best test/assessment is getting out and talking to constituents.

"I once asked a group of 14/15 year olds from a school in my constituency to describe what an MP looked like, and even though I was standing right in front of them, the first answer back was "an old bald man." Gloria De Piero

Q. JugglingFromHereToThere: Going into schools to talk with youngsters sounds a very good and rewarding thing to do Nicky. 

Jo and Gloria, do you both find and enjoy similar opportunities to encourage our young people to engage with politics?

A. Jo Swinson: Yes, one of my favourite parts of the job is going into schools and speaking with young people about politics - and far from apathy I often find a fair bit of enthusiasm for a wide range of issues. Too often politicians can take the view that young people don't matter until they are 18 and can vote - this is ridiculous. I take the view that I represent people whatever age they are and children are just as entitled to bring their concerns to me as adults. I think I was 10 when I first wrote to my MP.

A. Gloria De Piero: Going into schools and listening to students is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. It's much more important to answer questions and listen rather than give a big speech. I once asked a group of 14/15 year olds from a school in my constituency to describe what an MP looked like, and even though I was standing right in front of them, the first answer back was "an old bald man". And actually there are more bald men in the Cabinet than there are women! We have a way to go.

Q. Quivering: I'd be interested to hear what you think about jobsharing for MPs as a way to bring more women into politics? Or if you have any other suggestions?

A. Nicky Morgan: I have been thinking about this - my initial instinct is that this wouldn't work because to do the job of an MP well you need to do both constituency and Westminster work. But then in my former life as a solicitor I worked with two women who did a job share in a stressful corporate environment so maybe it could work. I do think that, like any other work place, flexible working (including job sharing) should be considered. I do wonder what the electorate would make of having to vote for two people for one role?

A. Gloria De Piero: Actually Nicky is right - nothing should be ruled out. Some businesses are doing great work on flexible working. Timewise have a part-time power list which is worth a look at - for example Unilever have a job share for their Global Category Strategy Director. What do Mumsnetters think? Would you consider being a job share MP and would you vote for a job share MP?

Q. Katn: I think some of the Hansard society stuff on possible reforms to PMQs sounds good. I actually like the fact the PM has to go to the House of Commons and account for his actions each week, it's the posing that goes with it that frustrates me.

I think quick-fire questions, and questions from the public sound like a great idea. What do you think?

A. Gloria De Piero: I used to be a journalist and the first interviewing rule I learned was that no question should be more than eight words. I reckon politicians could learn a lot from that one. A quick fire question is often a better way to put people on the spot than giving them ages to prepare the answer.

I know the Mumsnet survey found an appetite for 'sin bins' but my worry is it might just encourage some people to behave badly so how about recording MPs who've been reprimanded by the Speaker - might be something that TheyWorkForYou can add because I reckon more of our constituents see that- I'm sure local papers would report it. The only people that MPs would be genuinely frightened of a 'telling off' from is their own constituents.

Q. QothTheRaven: MPs are paid about £60k (which does sound like a lot) but actually in London in particular, do you think that is enough to attract the best candidates?

A. Nicky Morgan: Well, I don't know anyone who has decided they want to be elected on the basis of pay - the point is that it is about three times the national average wage and I think as a country we have other things to spend our money on. However, I do think we need to be clearer about why MPs incur legitimate office expenses and for those of us who have constituencies more than 100 miles away from London why we can claim hotel room costs/rent. I also get really annoyed when my staff salaries are described as expenses - they aren't. They are salaries and they work extremely hard for them.

Q. Frances5050: My understanding is that the average age in the House of Commons is about 50. Perhaps at that point in life both men's and women's parenting responsibilities become less demanding. Could this present the parties with an opportunity when it comes to attracting women into politics?

A. Nicky Morgan: Good point. I am in favour of women of all ages having second careers - and politics can certainly be one of them!

"I think on many long-term issues like climate change, or pensions reform, you need to try to build cross-party consensus so that you can still make positive changes for the long-term even though the parties in government will change." Jo Swinson

Q. JugglingFromHereToThere: I think it would be great to engage young people in politics, whilst discussions on voting intentions could still be included within, say, citizenship studies in the sixth form. My daughter (aged 15) also thinks it would be a good idea and they've discussed it at the City Youth Council that she's a member of.

What do you all think of lowering the voting age to 16?

A. Jo Swinson: I agree with votes at 16 and it is Lib Dem policy - sadly not something the current Coalition Government was able to agree on as our Conservative colleagues are not keen. I do believe it will happen at some point though. And 16 and 17-year-olds are voting in the independence referendum in Scotland in September.

Q. brandnewinformation: What's the most sexist thing that's happened to you in Parliament?

A. Nicky Morgan: One of the things I noticed about the survey was that 90% of Mumsnetters believed the political culture in Westminster to be sexist. I have to say I have never encountered any issues at all - except once to be told that being an MP meant sometimes having to work long hours (when my husband was in London for a meeting and I was due home to take over childcare and suddenly the Commons was sitting late that night so I complained to the Chief Whip) - I told the MP in no uncertain terms that I knew all about long hours from my previous jobs - including being a mum!

Q. CarolineWheatley: Do you think that party politics incentivises politicians to act in the short-term interests of their own progress in the party and not in the long-term interests of the population as a whole?

What would you change (whether you agree or not with the above) to increase the incentives to act for the greater good in the long term?

A. Jo Swinson: Well one drawback of our democratic system is that elections every five years do encourage short-term thinking, even if it is motivated by the desire to do long-term good. In order to implement your long-term objectives you still need to win elections in the short-term. But as I think Churchill famously said, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others which have been tried!

I think on many long-term issues like climate change, or pensions reform, you need to try to build cross-party consensus so that you can still make positive changes for the long-term even though the parties in government will change.

Q. WestmorlandSausage: Which party do you think will be the next to have a female leader or female chancellor of the exchequer?

A. Nicky Morgan: Very hard to tell although not sure it will be the Lib Dems (sorry Jo!) - but there are lots of good candidates on all sides of the House.

A. Jo Swinson: You may be right Nicky...
My guess is probably Labour (Yvette Cooper). Though Nicky is a Treasury Minister… who knows what the PM has in store for her?

Q. JustOneCube: The stats in the MN miscarriage campaign were pretty shocking - as were lots of Mumsnetters' stories about the care they received - will you commit to a manifesto pledge to improve miscarriage care in next Parliament please?

A. Jo Swinson: I agree, I saw that recently and thought having to wait for a scan for so long in those circumstances must be incredibly distressing. I'd be keen to find out more about why that is the case - is it policy/how care is organised/resources - and look at how we can then put some solutions in place.

A. Gloria De Piero: We all know someone who's had a miscarriage and the emotional and sometimes physical agony that comes with that. Mumsnet have done a done a lot to raise this issue with politicians and I'm glad that Andy Burnham will be talking to Mumsnetters tomorrow on what we can do to make sure women get the treatment and care they need.

Q. orangeone: Firstly, what's the point of PMQs? A bunch of children booing and jeering at each other in a way that I spend most of my day encouraging my preschooler not to do?

Secondly, do you think that politicians should have limited terms in office? This reduces 'career politicians', ensures that they have to do a 'normal job' at some point so can represent the general population better, and may specifically open the doors to more women (perhaps being more family friendly as to serve in Parliament becomes something you do for a limited time so can cope with crazy hours)?

A. Jo Swinson: I quite agree on PMQs, as per my reply to badooby above. I’m not sure about limited terms – it can reduce a politician’s effectiveness in their final term as we often see with US presidents.

The average time someone serves as an MP is only about nine years, so even though there are a few who serve for a long time, there is quite a turnover of MPs at each election. It can be useful to have some people there who have longer experience in Parliament itself, as well as others who bring a fresh pair of eyes to problems.

Q. woeface: Can I ask all of you what you think of the Rebekah Brooks/Andy Coulson phone-hacking verdict?

Should we be worried about the 'cosy' relationship between political parties and some sections of the media? And what needs to be done to make sure that only those whose probity is unimpeachable get close to power in the future?

"I asked YouGov to do some polling for me on why people didn't want to become MPs. Over a third of women said 'because of the press going through my private life and past'." Gloria De Piero

A. Nicky Morgan: Well, the PM has made a full apology for employing Andy Coulson and I think he previously said that at times the relationship did get too close. I think it is incumbent on all of us in elected office to uphold the highest standards at all times.

Q. Peacocklady: I would like to ask each of you whether you have faith in your party leaders.
When they were all photographed holding the Sun newspaper and smiling it seemed that their main priority is getting votes. Why did they do that? Where is their conviction? Who is going to stand up for a creative education? Who is going to speak up for the poor?

A. Jo Swinson: I do. I think Nick is doing a difficult job incredibly well. He has absolutely championed the importance of education as a route out of poverty – he has made sure that the Government is investing billions extra in the Pupil Premium which channels extra money to schools with the poorest pupils, and now extending that to nursery education too.

Q. plinkyplonks: What plans do you or your parties have to improve the image of women in the media? It seems the focus of some media outlets is still very sexist - with articles focusing on what a woman is wearing, her attractiveness, her age, trying to label women as unstable, needy, bossy etc when they express a different point of view.

A. Gloria De Piero: I think you're right and I think this can put many women off coming into politics. I asked YouGov to do some polling for me on why people didn't want to become MPs. Over a third of women said 'because of the press going through my private life and past'.

Q. MrsRTea: My question is to Gloria: Can I have an owl? And is there any chance of an Eagle? 

A. Jo Swinson: I was very glad that was a hoax tweet by Labour’s press office. My niece (nearly four) is a big fan of owls. She has even made up her own owl song involving them doing star-jumps - I don’t want her cheering on my main opponent in East Dunbartonshire thinking that she’d get an owl.

 

 

Last updated: over 1 year ago