(PA: Tulip Siddiq)
BY SABRINA DOSHI
Two weeks ago, Tulip Siddiq Labour MP of Hampstead and Kilburn reignited the ‘proxy vote’ debate within parliament as she delayed her caesarean birth in order to vote in the meaningful Brexit vote and then the vote of no confidence in Theresa May. She had to be ‘nodded through’, wheeled through the House of Commons by her husband Chris, so that her vote could be counted. If an MP is not present within the house of commons there is no way their vote can be counted. Tulip Siddiq argued via Twitter that the action of nodding through is ‘not ideal’, and that parliament needs ‘dragging into the 21st century’ because the lack of recognition of proxy voting (where an MP can vote on behalf of another MP) means that many women on maternity leave, or who are very heavily pregnant or giving birth, would not be able to exercise their right to vote in parliamentary debates and thus not able to do their job of representing their constituency. It does not even just affect women it affects fathers as well who may want to go on paternity leave and thus acts an indicator to prevent leaves of these kinds. It means that decisions in parliament are not always truly representative and parties could use this to their advantage to gain some gains of partisan advantage.
There was one way to try and override this problem, pairing.
The action of pairing (where a non-present MP pairs with someone who will vote the opposite to them so that they will both not vote to override unfairness and partisan advantage) was seemed to be subject to corruption as the Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis voted last summer in a tight Brexit vote when he was paired with Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson, who was at the time on maternity leave. Relying on the integrity of someone who wants to win a vote is inherently subject to corruption, therefore, Tulip ensured she was in parliament.
Whilst this fundamentally showed Tulip’s integrity and dedication to her job, the Labour Party and her constituency, it highlights a paradox. Whilst Parliament is seemingly becoming more equal, with more women MPs and allowing breastfeeding in the commons, parliament procedures remain inherently patriarchal, perhaps unknowingly making obstacles for women which fundamentally make it not equal. This is because parliamentary procedures had been created with a male-centric gaze, therefore, the obstacles women may face were never considered. This highlights the need for a gendered and intersectional gaze within parliament so it can empathise with things that primarily affect women.
Further, there will be many valid reasons why any MP can be absent for a vote, and proxy voting is the solution to enable their vote and prevent corruption.
On the 22nd January 2019, Leader of the commons Andrea Leadsom announced that proxy voting will be introduced on a one year pilot in maternity, paternity and adoption cases. Last night, Tulip Siddiq made history by becoming the first MP to vote by proxy with fellow Labour MP Vicky Ford casting her votes on her behalf. This is a great, and long overdue, advancement in parliamentary procedures that reflect changing times and modern politics. A great achievement for UK politics.