A friendly MP once told me that his job was that of a ‘super-Councillor’; others have described the role of modern parliamentarians as that of ‘super social workers’. This could lead one to make the assumption that local government would be a good training ground for aspiring Members of the House of Commons and that there might be some correlation between the gender make-up of the different levels of government. And yet, as someone with almost ten years experience on a district council and eight years of service on a County council, I have never been a member of a council where fewer than a third of the elected members were women. The proportion of women on the green benches is far, far lower, despite sustained, earnest efforts by all parties to increase their numbers.
The role of a councillor calls for the ability to listen to residents, to campaign on local and, occasionally, national issues. Councillors have to be able to read and understand copious papers, to persuade and argue, to make difficult and contentious decisions, to stay awake, deal with their own correspondence and juggle family and career. At first sight these are all the almost feminine qualities that should make a good member of the Commons. Many of us will know MPs whose wives would have made better members of parliament than the honourable member did or does.
So, I ask, "Why aren’t women making the leap from the Town Hall to the backbenches?" Could it be that, unbeknown to the public, the job of Member of Parliament requires the ability to do a great deal of heavy lifting or that the propensity to grow copious amounts of ear hair is an advantage in the job? Perhaps the supposedly feminine gift for multi-tasking actually hinders one in the representative role at the national level?