‘Britain Deserves A Parliament That Is Fit For Purpose In A Modern Democracy’

Tulip Siddiq delayed her cesarean to vote against Theresa May's Brexit deal, triggering a change in parliamentary voting that thousands of women to come will benefit from...

Tulip Siddiq

by Georgia Aspinall |

When Tulip Siddiq delayed her medically necessary cesarean to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal, she received hordes of abuse. ‘I expected some backlash about being a bad mother,’ she tells me, ‘and boy did I get it on social media.’

Without a system of proxy voting in the government, she was wheeled into Parliament on the 29th of January, and the image of her surrounded by her peers in the House of Commons instantly went viral.

‘I didn’t take the decision to delay my son’s birth lightly,’ she says, ‘but I came to the conclusion that if he entered the world one day later than doctors advised, in a country which had a better chance of maintaining a strong relationship with Europe, then it was worth fighting for. I represent a seat where 75% of residents voted to remain and where 22,000 Europeans call their home – failing to vote wasn’t an option for me.’

It's a noble cause, something Siddiq has demonstrated again and against when she voted against triggering Article 50 and lost her shadow cabinet position as a result. But ‘as a “citizen of the world”, I think Brexit is an enormous mistake,’ she says, ‘I couldn’t let Theresa May’s deal be voted through without having my constituents’ views represented.’

Understanding why the vote was so important for her, given the impact Brexit will have on women in particular, isn’t hard. But what many were questioning was why she had to be there in the first place, why is the British government still trapped in an archaic system that discriminates against anyone who is pregnant or too ill to vote?

‘I felt frustrated that I essentially had to choose between my job and my health, but I felt there was no other choice,’ Siddiq says, citing the Jo Swinson scandal last year when her pairing with Tory chairman Brandon Lewis was undermined as he chose to vote despite promising her he wouldn’t so she could be at home with her baby.

‘So many pregnant women and new mothers had been let down by a backwards voting system that had lasted for hundreds of years,’ she continued. But pregnant women in parliament aren’t just discriminated against when it comes to voting, they also face everyday sexism because of the ‘Dickensian’ rules.

‘The way in which debates are conducted also needs to be changed,’ Siddiq says, ‘When I was pregnant with my first child, Azalea, I was told I was “bringing down womankind” for having the cheek to leave the chamber to have a snack. To the outside world, the Commons must seem like a totally ridiculous place, with its Dickensian rules clearly discriminating against pregnant women and those MPs who are seriously ill.’

But Siddiq’s decision to vote that day had a much greater impact than proving a point about how discriminative parliament is, it forced a trial of proxy voting. Finding out while she was in hospital with her son, Siddiq says she ‘whooped with joy’ at the announcement.

‘So many pregnant women and new mothers had been let down by a backwards voting system that had lasted for hundreds of years,’ she continued, ‘dragging Parliament into the 21st century from my hospital bed was quite a feeling. I whispered to Raphael – “finally”’

Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done. ‘For a start, the new proxy voting system is only a trial – it must be made permanent,’ says Siddiq, ‘It should also be expanded to give the same rights to new fathers. We can’t send out the message that women should bear the entire burden of childcare, and so the scheme should be introduced for all new parents.’

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But it’s work Siddiq fully intends to get involved in, newborn baby or not. ‘There is a great group of MPs who have either recently been pregnant or who have been campaigning on this issue for some time,’ she says, ‘we stay in touch via WhatsApp and as soon as I am able to return to Westminster, I will be looking to push on with the necessary reforms of Parliament.

‘Britain deserves a Parliament that is fit for purpose in a modern democracy, and one that does not discriminate against people because of their gender, race, disabilities or life circumstances,’ she continued, ‘If I can play my part in making change happen, count me in.'

Tulip is one of our 10 Women Who’ve Changed The Conversation This Year. To mark International Women’s Day, Grazia and The Female Lead Have teamed up to celebrate the heroines who’ve made a difference to our everyday lives - even if you don’t know their name yet. We’ll be featuring a different amazing woman from the list every day online, and check out Grazia magazine on Tuesday 5th March for our list in full…

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