WHEN it comes to looking after new mums, Parliament has got to be one of the country’s worst employers.
You would be forgiven for expecting the House of Commons to lead the way when it comes to maternity and paternity rights. After all, MPs are the ones who tell the rest of us what to do. But it is firmly stuck in the Dark Ages.
MPs are not currently considered employees, so there is no formal system where they can take maternity, paternity or adoption leave — it’s left to political parties to sort it out.
The consequences were laid bare this week in a crucial vote on Brexit. The Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson is on maternity leave after giving birth three weeks ago, so was unable to vote on the Trade Bill. Instead she relied on a process known as ‘pairing’ — where another MP with an opposing position says they will not vote so the two cancel each other out.
Swinson had been told Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis would be her pair. However, with the numbers on a knife-edge, and a potential defeat for the government looming, Mr Lewis (pictured below) ended up voting, breaching the agreement.
According to The Times, the Tories’ chief whip urged three of his MPs to abandon their pairing arrangements.
Mr Lewis later tweeted: ‘Sorry Jo. I think it was an honest mistake made by the whips in fast-moving circumstances. I know how important the pair is to everyone, especially new parents, and I apologise.’
Chief whip Julian Smith said it was ‘a mistake — we pair consistently for pregnancy pairs’.
There has been understandable outrage and cries of foul play. But the anger is misguided — it should be targeted at the system. It is ludicrous that in 2018 there is no formal parental leave system for MPs, who are instead forced to rely on antiquated gentleman’s agreements.
When votes are this important — and what could be more crucial than Brexit? — there will always be pressure to break pairing agreements. The only way to stop it is to reform the system and introduce proper baby leave for MPs as soon as possible.
Can Labour win the battle for Hastings?
I’M in Hastings this week, where I’ll interview shadow chancellor John McDonnell for Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
The seat — known for its fishing industry — is a key target for Labour after Amber Rudd clung on by her fingertips at the last election.
I’m interested to find out what people in the Leave supporting town think of Theresa May’s Brexit plan — something tells me it will be key to how they vote next time around.
Boris’s Brexit bluster lets May off hook… for now
IN the end, the promised fireworks were more of a splutter. After quitting as foreign secretary over the government’s Brexit plan last week, Boris Johnson’s resignation speech was this week’s most hotly-anticipated event in Westminster.
As the blond bombshell rose from his seat after prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, he was in almost exactly the same spot from where Geoffrey Howe had delivered his devastating attack on Margaret Thatcher — a blow from which she never really recovered.
But natural showman Boris seemed strangely muted as he delivered his critique of the PM’s Brexit strategy — perhaps because his heart wasn’t really in it, or perhaps because the House of Commons is not really Johnson’s best arena.
She might not feel it at the moment, but Theresa May is extraordinarily lucky. Boris Johnson’s chances of being the next Tory leader are slipping and there are no other obvious successors.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party is still mired in internal rows and has only managed to open up a negligible poll lead despite the chaos. With only days left until Parliament breaks for recess and everyone has a chance to cool down, the prime minister is limping to the finish line.