Saturday 7 June 2008

Sugar nannies and the state.

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?


  1. If you're going to be pointlessly abusive, at least get your insults straight. It's long been de rigeur for the Tory upper classes to be brought up more by paid working-class nannies than by their parents.

    But this isn't the point. The claim is that she fiddled her expenses by declaring a childminder as a secretary, when said childminder was doing barely any secretarial work (according to the childminder herself). Obviously, the matter has yet to be settled, innocent until proven guilty, etc.

    You can argue that MPs should be able to claim for childminding expenses: that certainly sounds sensible to me, but it's fundamentally a separate issue.

  2. The claims relate to public (taxpayers') money rather than party funds and it is surely right to expect that MPs comply with whatever rules are in existance at the time (and I wholly believe that Spelman if she did transgress the rules, did entirely accidentally).

    Childminding expenses should certainly be claimable though. Salaries for MPs were originally introduced to make sure Parliament was open to working class people, not just the upper-middle classes with outside income from professions, land or investments - what's the difference with ensuring carers aren't excluded from Parliament too? Certain public appointees receive taxpayers funds to pay for childcare during meetings.

    Quite apart from MPs expenses though - none of the main parties have any real provision for childcare for the party's candidates and voluntary offices - and this is one of the main reasons women with caring responsibilities find it so hard to get selected to stand for Parliament. It is near impossible to get selected for Parliament / win a seat without putting in huge numbers of unpaid hours in party meetings / on the doorstep, which instantly writes off thousands of excellent candidates.

  3. Seems you got your facts a bit wrong, but I agree with the gist of it.

    And I'm kinda wondering how many single fathers there are in politics now as well. Something tells me it's not a big number.

    Either way, I'm looking forward to the next piece, as always.

  4. As has been exhaustively pointed out by the above comments, the corruption issue is claiming secretarial expenses for a childminder, not claiming for a childminder (whether this be allowed or not) outright. However, I am unsure what "pointless abuse" Miles sees in the article, and would invite him to elaborate on this strident non sequitur. In any case, it was hardly your point.

    I entirely agree that childminding expenses should be available to all MPs in order to allow better representation (and, in theory, higher competition and competence due to an increased pool of candidates). I would extend that to say that childminding services should be a state benefit to all single parents. Such a programme has the potential to improve quality of life and class mobility for all single parents and their children.

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