If we have learnt anything over the last few years (in this post referendum era) it must be that our political structures urgently need review. We need change in how we represent the people of the UK and indeed in who should be representing us.
Small signs of these changes have begun to crop up: from professor Sarah Child’s “Good Parliament” report, to the introduction of Proxy voting and Stella Creasey’s call for a Locum MP to cover her maternity leave.
It is within this context that yours truly, (CotL member Anya Sizer) and my Labour party colleague Charlotte Carson, have launched a campaign to allow MPs to be able to job share.
Just like many Labour Party policies, this is in some ways a radical concept but in others an obvious move. Allowing for a more diverse group of people to be able to represent us within the chamber, whilst making parliament truly democratic and fit for purpose.
The idea for me personally grew out of my experiences in politics over the last few years.
Let me explain. I have worked for three different MPs and received incredible training from both Labour Women’s Network and Fabian Women’s Network and I would really love to stand as a Labour candidate.
However, the reality of my life is I am a mother of three, one of whom is adopted with significant additional needs. Whilst I have the capability, skills and the drive to represent my constituency, that just doesn’t match my availability, especially when you consider the 50+ hours a week that many MPs put in.
A throw away comment to a colleague that “what I would really love is a job share” soon led to a journey of discoveries…
Much work has already been done on this issue: from John McDonnel’s 2012 private members bill to the Fawcett societies “Open House” report and even a court case on behalf of the Green Party.
Reassuringly, these people had already come to the same conclusions we had; job sharing the role would increase the diversity of citizens eligible to be an MP, it would help alleviate some of the enormous pressures individual MP’s are under and ultimately it could mean even more scope to better serve their constituencies.
The main arguments against the idea fall into two categories:
Firstly, the practicalities.Many people wonder how the role would or could be divided. For example, would one person mainly focus on constituency casework and another one on parliamentary work?
For myself and prospective “running partner” Charlotte, the way we would divide the role would be to follow a one-week-on one-week-off model, in order that both partners would undertake all aspects of an MP’s schedule. There are valid alternatives such as 3 days each a week, or working different hours more flexibly, but the underlying intention should always be to equally split all responsibilities.
The other practical major obstacle to overcome is the issue of voting intentions in parliament and what to do should there be disagreements within the partnership.
Charlotte and I have tested this personally by looking at several months of actual votes and issues from the commons, secretly assessing how we would individually vote and then sharing the results with each other. I am pleased to share that every single voting decision we made would have been the same.
However, there would of course need to be a formal mechanism for when this breaks down. Should this happen, the partners would simply defer (as MPs already do) to the party whips’ decision and party line on the matter. There may be times when one or other would have to compromise on issues, however this is an experience MPs face already on a daily basis and not a valid argument against the idea of a job share.
The second main argument against a job share is that the public perception of a Member of Parliament is that of a sole representative of an area and the face of a constituency.
The Fawcett society investigated this as an issue via a public survey. They found that once the positive arguments had been shared around increasing diversity and allowing for greater representation, that nearly half of all people agreed it would be a good idea.
For us, some of the campaign will have to be about helping the public to understand the merits of job sharing the role. Many people will need a change of mindset and help with understanding this culture shift. Perhaps this is also a case of needing to demonstrate in a practical way what this would look like, something we are both keen to do.
In August 2019, we officially launched the #JobShareMP campaign with a round table in Westminster and representatives attended from the Green Party, the Women’s Equality Party, Labour Women’s Network, The Fabian Society and chaired by Rosie Duffield MP. We are really keen that Labour lead the way on this and it was fantastic to have Rosie at the event.
Since then we have launched our campaign page on Facebook (click here and follow us to keep up with updates) we have spoken to dozens of MPs and we have written to Jennie Formby and applied to stand as candidates.
We are keen to keep building momentum for the campaign and to get the message out. We are also preparing (if required) to launch a second legal battle to allow for a change in the law.
Ultimately, we want to see the House of Commons as a place that truly represents the people it seeks to serve, fit for purpose, reformed and modernised. We believe that alongside other changes this could be exactly what is needed after the political difficulties of the last few years.
Sharing the role of an MP may well be just the change that politics currently needs.
Please note that this blog is also published on Christians On The Left