Richard Baker: We need more female politicians
I AM not a feminist. Now there's an interesting way for a middle-aged bloke to stand up and start a column.
I am married, I have two kids, I live in a detached house, drive a middle-aged Volvo and even sit on the sofa with a gormless grin while watching Top Gear.
That's me pigeonholed, then.
Members of the jury, let me pose a counter-argument.
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The defendant in this case, who stands accused of being ordinary, was also seen in reception at Loxley House, the headquarters of Nottingham City Council, shaking his head and tutting.
Why did he engage in this public display of disapproval? Because he had seen a display of the photographs of all the council's cabinet members. And only one of them was a woman.
Now, this is not to cast aspersions on the abilities of the men who lead council committees. The defendant (that's me, by the way) knows some of them, and can testify to their commitment.
But why only one woman? Sadly, I think we know why. Women still carry much of the domestic burden in life, and politics at local level is not meant to be a full-time occupation. So, if a woman wants to pursue a high-level career in politics, she has to be free from some of those burdens, and have personal and professional circumstances which can tolerate being in long meetings which are nothing to do with work or family.
So that's easily done, then.
I reckon there's another reason why women don't get involved in public life as much: some of them find it a colossal turn-off.
If you think Top Gear is a tediously predictable lad fest, then go and sit in the public gallery in the House of Commons. Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have got nothing on the boorish louts whose behaviour sometimes turns the Parliamentary backbenches into an out-take from Jackass.
Let's be honest: to have one half of humankind so woefully under-represented in government at all levels suggests that the battle fought by the suffragettes is still not over. Government and democracy would benefit hugely from more women in positions of power, yet we tolerate structures, processes and attitudes which put up hurdles at every level.
Recently, it was suggested that we should try to make it easier for women juggling responsibilities to get into Parliament by allowing MPs to jobshare. It's common enough in council jobs, so why not two women sharing an MP's role?
Fine in theory, but what if your two representatives differ on issues of conscience – who decides how the vote goes?
And what about the cost – you won't get two MPs for the price of one, will you? No – and nor should you. And cost – the price you pay for a high-quality representative democracy – is surely the issue. Even in the wake of the Parliamentary perks scandal, I'm still in the camp that says we don't invest enough on support and encouragement for well-qualified, well-trained MPs and councillors.
That means giving women politicians all the back-up they need to balance conflicting demands in life. Having politicians who understand those conflicting demands would surely make for better councils and better government.