When Stella Creasy brought her three-month-old son to the House of Commons last November, she had no idea what furore she was about to unleash. “I was there to lead a debate on ‘buy now, pay later’ credit systems,” she says. “It wasn’t my first time bringing a baby, and fussing couldn’t have been further from my mind.” Yet that day, Creasy received a reprimand from the Private Secretary to the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, pointing out that his child’s presence breached the rules of the MPs’ Handbook on “Behaviour and Courtesies” in the Commons.
“There was a practical reason I brought my son, which was that I didn’t have proper maternity cover,” the Labor MP says when we met at the Hoxton Hotel, her son Isaac ( known as Pip, named after Creasy’s father) once again in tow. Although she won an uphill battle to appoint a replacement to handle her constituency work for six months after the birth of her first child, Hettie, in 2019, she was denied that opportunity this time around, after the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority refused to fund cover equivalent to his full salary. Even with an alternate, there are limits: if an MP on maternity leave wishes to represent her constituents by speaking in person at Westminster, she must forfeit her proxy vote. “For me, it’s not an option to tell my constituents that for six months they have no voice, no issue that I can move forward,” Creasy said. “I was on the phone with ministers within 24 hours of giving birth to Pip because we had hundreds of people in Walthamstow affected by the Afghan crisis. I’m not going to tell someone who’s scared of the Taliban , sorry, I had a baby so your family doesn’t matter. It’s an impossible situation.
Creasy has been fighting for her right to a political voice since she was a student at Cambridge, where, according to recent revelations she made in an interview with GB News, she was threatened with gang rape as part of a sustained campaign of sexual harassment. which lasted throughout his involvement in student politics. Since becoming an MP she has often been trolled – including further threats of rape and being called a ‘witch’ – and found herself the object of hostility from women like men.
Carrying her child in a sling to Parliament sparked accusations that she pressured new mothers to work while on leave, while her campaigns for MPs’ maternity rights were slammed as only about a political elite. “It was never fair to us,” she retorts, “but it shows how endemic the problem is when even the place that makes our laws is not open to mums.” Combining motherhood with work shouldn’t be a juggling act, she says. “There’s no other environment where we just accept that something is difficult – why not try to make it easier, because who knows what talent we might unearth?”
Cultivating talent is why Creasy is currently championing a non-partisan campaign called This Mum Votes which encourages mothers to run for office. Led by the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, the movement has already helped open a public conversation about barriers to participation such as prohibitive childcare costs, failures of the universal credit system and lack of options flexible work.
“When I start talking to women about these issues privately, they are full of rage, but publicly they feel they can’t say anything,” observes Creasy. To break this taboo and tackle what she calls the “motherhood penalty”, she recently launched an initiative within the Labor Party, MotherRED, which offers grants of up to £2,000 to help female candidates with children to stand for election. “We put the money where our mouths are,” she says, “and we also send a vote of confidence to show that being a mother in politics is not a disadvantage, it is an advantage – because ‘Right now, those voices are missing from the public debate.
Westminster could certainly benefit from having more voices like Creasy’s, but what she may need even more is her sense of drive. “Sitting apart is for Waldorf and Statler,” proclaims her bio on Twitter, and in the 12 years she’s been in her Walthamstow seat, Creasy has proven time and time again that she’s a woman of action, whether that means working with youth groups in her community or leading the fight against payday loan companies – with or without a baby strapped to her chest. “I refuse to believe that my ideas only have power when Labor is in government,” she says. “You can always make progress, and I will work with anyone and everyone to make that happen.”
Stella Creasy appears in ‘A Woman’s World, 1850–1960’ by Marina Amaral and Dan Jones (£30, Head of Zeus), released August 4.
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