On this day 100 years ago, Parliament passed the (Qualification of Women) Act which allowed women to become MPs. As part of the conversation around this seminal moment in history and the
#AskHerToStand movement, Team Tatty thought it was high time that we learned more about what it takes to be a woman in contemporary politics. Enter Tatty Devine fan and local Labour & Co-op MP for Hackney South & Shoreditch, Meg Hillier, with a little insider information. Ready? Let's go!
CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO IN FIVE WORDS?
Listen, challenge, tell Hackney’s story.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST TAKE AN INTEREST IN POLITICS?
I remember being very exercised about the abolition of the wages council in 1993 because low paid work became very low paid. I got active when the local Conservative MP in the seat I grew up in died and then lost the seat in the by-election. I spent my first year of work in South Yorkshire and seeing the impact of the pit closures really fired me up to become more actively involved.
DO YOU THINK THAT WESTMINSTER CAN STILL BE A HARD PLACE FOR WOMEN TO SUCCEED IN?
It’s still a very male place – I was only the 275th woman to ever be elected to Parliament when I was elected in 2005 (there are 650 MPs in Parliament today), but we should not be too defeatist. There are many excellent, successful women who have achieved a great deal. There is also a lot of support among women MPs for each other – across party lines. It can be tricky to balance family life with the peculiar hours I work but it is possible.
HOW ARE YOU CELEBRATING 100 YEARS SINCE FEMALE MPS JOINED PARLIAMENT?
By proudly wearing my Tatty Devine 100 years jewellery and hosting young women in Parliament to encourage them into politics.
WHAT SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE FOR WOULD BE FEMALE POLITICIANS?
Each political party has support programmes to educate, encourage and train women. I was lucky to have an excellent mentor – Stephen Twigg MP – a man who wanted to see more women involved. That personal encouragement is so important and I try and support women, focusing mostly on women in Hackney.
HOW CAN OUR FANS FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE WORK YOU DO?
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT AS MP?
I don’t usually like banning things but voting on 14 February 2006 to ban smoking in public places was a bold step which will have a long-term benefit for health. On a more personal level, receiving the support of my Parliamentary colleagues to be elected Chair of the Public Accounts Committee was a huge honour and our work watching taxpayers money and challenging government is really important.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE PIECE OF TATTY DEVINE?
It’s a tough choice between my various Hackney Name Necklaces (from DeBeauvoir to Homerton) and the lovely peacock feather necklace that my husband bought me (without a hint) for Christmas last year.
WHICH WOMEN ARE YOU WATCHING AT THE MOMENT?
Some very talented young women in Hackney, like Busayo, our youth Parliamentarian. These savvy, passionate and engaged young women give me real hope for the future. I have had the joy of working with a number of young women from Hackney in my office and have been so proud of how they have gone on to do so well.