When Miatta Fahnbulleh told her children her bid to become the Labour candidate for Camberwell and Peckham might mean she would sometimes miss their bedtime, her eldest said it would be really tough – for her.
She acknowledges it will be hard, but no harder than getting mothers’ voices heard in parliament. “The barriers to entry for mothers are massive,” she says. “So yes, it will be tough, but if we don’t get more mothers in parliament that will never change.”
At Labour conference this week, a powerful new caucus is emerging, focused on pushing the party to commit to affordable and high-quality childcare. Fahnbulleh is one of now 50 women who have received support and grants from MotherRED – a campaign set up by MP Stella Creasy, and backed by senior Labour women including Cherie Blair and Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary. Each candidate has signed up to a central commitment to family-friendly policies on paternity leave, flexible working and childcare provision.
Of the 50 candidates, who receive grants of up to £2,000 to help cover things like childcare costs while they attend political meetings, one third are from ethnic minority backgrounds, another third are single parents and 20% have children with special educational needs.
“These are the voices that you are not hearing within politics,” says Stella Creasy. “They are bringing direct immediate experience of the barriers that mums are facing, not just in public life, but across the economy.”
This week will also see the launch of the Labour Campaign for Childcare Reform which supporters hope will make sure that “an economic strategy built around the next generation is a priority for the next Labour government”. “We have to stop the country’s productivity being tied down by poor childcare provision,” says organiser Holly Higgins.
Creasy thinks campaigners are pushing at an open door, with shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves “very committed” to the cause, but adds: “What these women bring is urgency. They understand first-hand just how much of a barrier the lack of childcare is and the impact on your ability to do things, including standing for public office.”
Phillipson will set out Labour’s plans for a modern childcare system at the party’s conference this week, promising “a complete transformation in how we deliver childcare, from the end of parental leave right through primary school”. On Monday evening she will be grilled by a panel including Pregnant Then Screwed’s Joeli Brearley and Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, at a fringe event ahead of her speech on Wednesday.
But childcare will be costly and complicated. Creasy is working behind the scenes on an amendment to the levelling up bill which would list childcare as infrastructure so that developers have to consider childcare provision if they build new homes.
“It’s a classic example whereby if you haven’t got people who understand that childcare is not a nice add on, but an intrinsic part of a functioning productive economy, it gets missed,” she said.
Fahnbulleh – who came to the UK as a refugee before becoming an economist and the CEO of the New Economist Foundation – says she wanted to stand as a candidate before signing up to MotherRED, but was energised by “being part of something”.
“I desperately want to get in because there are big things that I want to do for the community that I want to represent. I want to make my mark and have my impact in politics,” she says. “But I also want to stand alongside these women and make changes that will impact millions of families if we get it right. And that feels really exciting.”