Cllr Nickie Aiken is the Leader of Westminster City Council.
Sadly, I have never had the pleasure of meeting Ruth Davidson, admiring her from afar as a woman, politician, and now as a mother. Her decision to quit frontline politics last week would not have been an easy one and I have no doubt her deliberations over recent months were tough.
Ruth made it clear that eight years as Leader, six elections, and two referendums, have taken their toll on her family and friends. With the arrival of baby Finn, she has made the same decision many parents (mostly mothers) make – putting their family before their career.
When I heard the news reports that Ruth was set to resign, I knew immediately that it had nothing to do with Boris Johnson or Brexit and everything to do with her son. My first instinct was to congratulate her on a very brave and right decision for her and her family.
There will, no doubt, be much discussion in certain quarters about whether she had let woman politicians down. The feminists and “women can have it all” brigade will likely say she has betrayed their cause. What is more likely is that Ruth has realised that Finn is an absolute gift and actually her time will be better off spent over the next few years being with him, serving her Edinburgh Central constituents, and not crisscrossing Scotland campaigning and leading the Scottish Tories.
I back Ruth 100 per cent. She has served our Party superbly, reaching parts of the electorate no Tory had reached for a long time, if ever. Her down to earth approach, her sharp wit, and political campaigning nous have been a joy to watch, particularly when putting Nicola Sturgeon in her place time after time. Scottish politics and politics, in general, will be a poorer place without her on the main stage.
Politics is a full-on commitment – and so is motherhood. You can do both, but there are limits.
I speak from experience having been elected to Westminster City Council in May 2006 seven months pregnant with a toddler in tow. Being pregnant at the same time as my election hadn’t been part of the plan! Obviously a local councillor is a very different role to a national Party Leader like Ruth. However, maternal guilt is the same whatever the job.
Can you, if you choose, mix politics with parental duties?
Yes, you can but make no mistake, it isn’t easy, it does mean sacrifices, tough choices. I have sadly missed parent’s evenings, my daughter’s secondary school induction ceremony, and numerous other school events because of a three-line whip Council meeting or a Party commitment that I promised four months ago to speak at. I’ve agonised over the choices I have made, but my children have also benefitted from my role and are proud that their mother plays a role in our democracy and politics. I am fortunate that in the main I can work my council commitments around my family. Being home most days after school to make supper before rushing out again to a meeting. Probably not possible or practical as a national party leader which really is a 24/7 role.
I have never found the Conservative Party anything but supportive as a working mum. I am proud to be the product of the meritocracy that makes our Party, the Party for All. This Cardiff comprehensive educated granddaughter of a bus driver has an old Etonian, Jacob Rees-Mogg, to thank for firing the starting gun on my Westminster career, chairing my selection committee, and putting me through. Probably not what the likes of Momentum’s Laura Parker and her nasty rhetoric about “establishment millionaires” wants to believe.
I’ve been able to rise through the ranks in Westminster holding several Cabinet Member portfolios including Children’s Services, the first Westminster Conservative in the role to actually have children! I became Leader of the Council in January 2017. The third mother to do so.
Being a mum actually gives me a different perspective as a politician. I know and understand how important it is to have good childcare available for working families, excellent schools, and high quality sports and leisure facilities. I appreciate how vital it is to keep Council Tax low as rises in this unfair tax particularly hit low income households. My life and parental experiences are why I put building more affordable homes at the top of my political agenda, along with improving our air quality when I became Council Leader. I also know what it is to be part of the ‘sandwich generation” – juggling the bringing up of teenagers with looking after aging parents. My father was diagnosed with dementia shortly after I became Leader.
We must do more to encourage young and older women into our Party and to stand for election both locally and nationally. We still haven’t quite cracked how to do it and the current abusive and adversarial brand of UK politics is unlikely to attract many non-politicos, particular women to stand. I certainly don’t support positive discrimination. I would be appalled if I was selected because of my gender rather than my ability. What message does that send to my daughter’s generation? That said, I hail Women To Win as a great support network. I have not been involved personally but have many friends who have appreciated its support and guidance.
I wish Ruth the very best with bringing up Finn and hopefully having more children with Jen. I also hope that one day when she and the family are ready, she decides she misses us and the cut and thrust of politics, and chooses to return and join the Conservative Party’s growing Mum’s Army