Today in institutional misogyny: Tories apologise for nanny being paid from party expenses, disgraced woman MP sent to the parliamentary standards commissioner.
What, precisely, is the problem with a working mother paying another working woman to carry out childcare and admin duties that she doesn’t have time for? Does the public worry that people who are ‘only nannies’ are unlikely to make good secretaries? Does a focus on childcare as a career mean one is unable to read, write, keep files and open post? Was the nanny found delinquently dancing on rooftops with rogue chimney sweeps? Or is the issue simply that childcare isn’t seen as an important part of a politician’s expenses, particularly if that politician is female? Excuse me whilst I remove my jacket: it’s getting rather hot under this glass ceiling.
The Tories’ staffing allowance is intended to meet the cost of assistants helping MPs with their parliamentary work, and is not meant to cover expenses incurred running their private lives. Well, here’s a newsflash: in an integrated workforce those distinctions simply can’t be drawn. Childcare is an essential expense for a great deal of MPs, and for female MPs in particular – as essential as secretaries or office interns. The security of reliable nannying is one of the things that allows women to continue to stand for parliamentary positions in an age where one often cannot rely on partners, extended family or other women to look after your children. I see no reason for arguing that reasonable childcare shouldn’t be chalked up to official expenses; I see no reason that Ms Spelman’s case shouldn’t set a precedent for future arrangement of expenses. You never know, we might just see a few more female MPs in the Commons.
This case is in a totally different ballpark from Giles Chichester’s sneaky 400-grand donation to his own company, also exposed this week. It’s clear that Tina Haines’ work, both in secretarial and childcare terms, was invaluable to Caroline Spelman in her first months as an MP. It’s clear, also, that these women had a good working relationship in a difficult time which saw Spelman, who despite lacking pendulous Tory testicles is now party chair, working from home, listing her domestic residence as her constituency office, and bringing up three young children whilst attempting to serve her constituents and her country. Yes, this was an economic arrangement between two women potentially divided by class and income. Yes, I’m running dangerously close to defending a Tory MP’s finance arrangements. But if one woman manages to combine a successful political career and motherhood whilst another receives more money and an added whack of parliamentary experience should she ever decide to change careers? Well, I call that sisterhood.
Which is, of course, precisely the Tories’ objection to the use of their party funds – along with the fact that publicly acknowledged financial support for any working-class woman in a carer’s role would be setting a dangerous precedent for the party. Next thing you know, it’ll be tuppence for every penniless bird-feeding lady in London and the dons of Merril Lynch and PriceWaterhouseCoopers flying kites on Hampstead Heath – and then where would we be?