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Watch: Stella Creasy trounces Austin Mitchell in a debate on the “feminisation of politics”

Austin Mitchell, who is stepping down as Labour MP for Great Grimsby at the next election, fails to defend his assertion that having more women in Parliament is a “worrying matter”.

Newsnight had Austin Mitchell on last night to defend his bizarre Mail on Sunday article, in which he attacked the Labour party’s “obsession” with all-women shortlists. Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow and a prominent campaigner on feminist issues, took him to task for his views, asking whether he really believed open selections are done on merit. (Only 23 per cent of MPs are women, barely more than one fifth. In case you needed reminding, women are just over half the population of the UK.)

Mitchell responded that it was “up to Conservatives and Liberals to seize the baton and have more women on their side. But let’s give it a rest for the time being, see if the barriers have been broken down enough”.

For some reason, the clip seems to have been removed from YouTube by Newsnight, but you can watch it here:

For reference, 16 per cent of Conservative and 13 per cent of Lib Dem MPs are women, compared with 33 per cent of Labour MPs. (See this report for further figures.) To date, the Labour party remains the only one to have used all-women shortlists, and the only party to have made significant progress in increasing equality in its parliamentary party.

Some more key quotations from the exchange:

Austin Mitchell: We're becoming more social workers than international statesmen.

Stella Creasy: What I recognise is the drip, drip, drip of discrimination and prejudice that women face in every single sphere of public life... 

AM: Oh Stella, don't hector me.

SC: Oh I'm sorry Austin, is the sound turned up? Because I promise you I'm not shouting. I'm just frustrated that yet again we're seeing women being put down in this way.

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SC: There are still now more men sat in parliament today than there have ever been women MPs... Tell me how many women is us doing our duty in a party that is designed to promote social justice, Austin? How many? Is there a particular number?

AM: Well, I mean, the proportion of women will be over 40 per cent if we were in power...

SC: Oh right, so about 40 per cent, so not parity, not equality, that's enough is it? We've got enough women have we?

AM: That's a good base to build on... I'm not suggesting we have a quota for old people.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland