When Laura Pidcock (Labour MP for North Durham), stated she would not even consider ‘hanging out’ with any Conservative female MPs as they were the enemy of women. These remarks were met with jeers from the Tory benches, even leading to comments from Theresa May asking when Labour were going to deliver a female Prime Minister. Yesterday, we learnt why Laura Pidcock was right in her reservations.
Following the two crucial Brexit amendment votes in the House of Commons, Deputy Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson MP could not attend due to being on maternity leave but was also left unable to vote, despite measures being in place to do so. The concept of pairing votes means that if an MP is unable to attend Parliament due to something like being on maternity leave, they can pair with someone who they know would vote in the opposite way. In this case, Ms Swinson paired with Conservative party Chairman Brandon Lewis. Despite turning up and voting twice, Mr Lewis abstained from voting on the two most important votes of the day, the Brexit customs union and the medicine agency vote. Due to Mr Lewis’ lack of attendance Jo Swinson was, therefore, unable to vote, which brings about issues of not only political significance but greater legal breaches.
The political implications are obvious, underhand tactics to oppress Parliament’s functionality whilst undermining the democratic will of the people in a representative democracy. It seems a great irony that in trying to deliver the supposed ‘will of the people’, the ‘weak and wobbly’, Jenga tower soon to collapse Conservative government, has forgotten about the people it represents, and the process in which it should do so. The legal implications are just as damming. As Jo Swinson so passionately argued on Twitter, 54,000 women lose their jobs each year in the UK due to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. The ‘burning injustices’ that this government wanted to fight has begun to appear in the institution responsible for producing legislation to combat these exact problems.
The Conservative party, when questioned on the matter, brushed it off as an innocent mistake, with the both the Tory whip and Mr Lewis reluctant to take full responsibility. Even more absurd, when Mr Lewis was asked whether he’d apologise by sending a bouquet of flowers to Ms Swinson, he suggested it was not his responsibility to do so.
There have been fresh calls now to bring in proxy voting for those MPs on maternity leave. Swinson has received much cross-bench unity, with former Labour leader Harriet Harman backing the appeal. It is hoped that Parliament will vote on this matter before the early recess proposal is voted on.