Ruth Davidson quits: Is family life possible on the campaign trail?

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PA Media

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Ruth Davidson pictured after the birth of her son, Finn, with her partner, Jen Wilson

Ruth Davidson quit as Scottish Tory leader on Thursday, after eight years in the job.

In her resignation letter, she said her personal priorities had changed, and the prospect of spending hundreds of hours away from her son and partner during a possible election campaign now filled her with “dread”.

We spoke to other MPs about their experiences of juggling their political careers with family life.

Tulip Siddiq – Labour

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Oliver Denton

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Tulip Siddiq delayed a caesarean section for the birth of her second child, Raphael, so that she could vote on Brexit

“Would it be possible to stop having a baby or an election for every year of our marriage?” Ms Siddiq’s husband, Christian Percy, regularly jokes to his wife, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn.

The couple have a three-year-old, Azalea, who was born in the lead-up to 2016’s EU referendum, and seven-month-old Raphael.

“Azalea was born right before the EU referendum and even though it wasn’t directly my election, I did a lot for it,” Ms Siddiq says.

It is “difficult” being a parent on the campaign trail, but elections “put an enormous amount of pressure on anyone who has caring responsibilities”, she says, including those who care for elderly parents or disabled spouses.

“The main overriding theme is the huge amount of guilt you feel as a parent,” she says.

She describes going days at a time where Azalea had not seen her awake, because she had left the house before she had woken up and returned when she was already asleep. Ms Siddiq also says she feels guilty at the amount of pressure the campaign put on her husband.

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Oliver Denton

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Azalea, Tulip Siddiq’s daughter, enjoys a tour of the House of Commons

MPs were generally supportive – although surprised – she delayed her C-section in order to vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal in January, Ms Siddiq says, adding that she was “lucky” to have a support network around her.

She says Parliament is starting to recognise that all MPs who are caregivers need more support.

The MP credits Commons Speaker John Bercow with bringing in a lot of positive change for MPs who are parents.

“He’s a real feminist,” she says. “I do applaud him. In my opinion, he’s pushed Parliament into the new millennium.”

“Things have changed and I’m proud I’ve played my part in it.”

Bim Afolami – Conservative

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Bim Afolami

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Bim Afolami MP with his wife, Henrietta

Bim Afolami, the MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, was one of the first male MPs to use a proxy vote so he could take paternity leave from the House of Commons to be with his wife, Henrietta, and their third child, Frederick, who was born in March.

The year-long proxy vote trial, which was approved in January, allows an MP to nominate a colleague to vote on their behalf if they have recently become a parent, are about to give birth or have suffered a miscarriage.

Mr Afolami, whose proxy vote was cast by Gillian Keegan, the Conservative MP for Chichester, says his wife was “surprised but quite happy” with his decision.

It enabled him to help with the “practical things” – such as collecting pre-prepared meals – “things that can’t be done by the person who is lying in a bed, breastfeeding,” he says.

He credits Henrietta for supporting his political career by taking a greater role caring for their three sons: Zachary, five, Samuel, two, and Frederick, six months.

His decision to take paternity leave was, he says, to recognise his wife’s on-going commitment to raising their family, whilst also running a family business.

“It is important to be around at the beginning,” he says. “These things are once in a lifetime.”

Being an MP, he says, requires “a huge amount of time and absorption” because “you are never not doing politics”, which inevitably leads to “trade-offs” between work and family life.

But Mr Afolami says he appreciates he is more fortunate than others, thanks to family support and “more options than most people do for help with childcare”.

Mr Afolami, who has been an MP since 2017, says the thought of election campaigning is “exhausting”, adding: “You don’t see your family during an election campaign.”

“The people you need to see are out there, it’s usually about a month of hardcore campaigning,” he says.

“It’s not that different from what happens in various other walks of life. You just have to be completely immersed in it.”

He says his children were too young to be involved in his 2017 campaign, but says he may let Zachary help deliver some leaflets if an election is announced soon.

Kirsty Blackman – SNP

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Kirsty Blackman

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Kirsty Blackman (left) and her children on the campaign with Nicola Sturgeon, in the lead up to the general election in 2017

SNP MP Kirsty Blackman believes her children, Harris, eight, and Rebecca, six, have truly benefited from growing up on the campaign trail.

When she was a local councillor she was very involved with the “Yes” campaign for Scottish independence – when her children were only aged three and one.

And on the 2017 general election campaign trail she would take Rebecca door-knocking with her while Harris was at school.

“I think the benefit for my kids is that they can pretty much talk to anybody, because they’ve had the opportunity to talk to people from all different backgrounds throughout their lives,” she says.

She admits it’s not easy, but adds “it’s not easy to juggle any job with being a parent”.

“I always feel guilty about not spending time with the kids, but I think everybody does,” she says.

“But I also feel guilty about not doing enough work.”

Jonathan Edwards – Plaid Cymru

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Jonathan Edwards MP

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Jonathan Edwards with his wife and children on a family day out in Wales

Jonathan Edwards relishes the prospect of an election campaign, because it enables him to spend more time in Wales with his wife, Emma, a part-time receptionist and his three children, Abigail, 11, Llywelyn, five, and Lilli, two.

“I try to keep campaigning and my family separate,” the MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr says.

“I think campaigning gets harder the more children you have. You just go into auto-pilot.”

On a normal week, after completing the school run on Monday, Mr Edwards makes the four-hour journey from Carmarthen to Westminster and says if he’s lucky, he’s home by teatime on Thursday.

His absence during the week means he has missed out on precious moments in his children’s lives – but he tries to make up for it by keeping every Sunday for family time.

“When your children are young, it’s a time to treasure,” he says.

He says Ruth Davidson’s decision to resign is “completely understandable”.

“Politics is a very bruising and tough business and it is more bruising the higher up the chain of command you go,” he says.

“You have to think – is it worth it, when you’re at that level?”

Tom Brake – Liberal Democrat

Tom Brake, Carshalton and Wallington’s MP since 1997, has won six election campaigns.

His daughter, now 22, arrived three months before he first won his seat, and his son, now 18, arrived in January 2001, five months before he fought for re-election.

“It was a huge challenge, I had the advantage (I’m not sure my wife would see it this way) that because she was pregnant and was off work, she was able to help me soon after I was elected,” he says.

“I think the real challenges are around juggling childcare arrangements because my wife works full-time as well.”

When his daughter was old enough to sit in a car seat he took her with him on constituency meetings – including one particularly successful event when she was just six-months-old, which she slept through peacefully.

Other political outings didn’t have the same level of success, however.

“There were some occasions when I left my baby daughter in the Liberal Democrats’ whips office, when I had to go in for votes,” he says.

“She didn’t particularly enjoy that experience. I don’t think the whips office enjoyed that experience either, because they are all young people who didn’t know one end of a baby from another.”

It was Jo Swinson, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, who became the first MP to take her baby into a Commons debate in September last year.

Mr Brake counts himself lucky that his London-based constituency gives him the ability to be able to commute between Westminster and his home within an hour, or an hour and 45 minutes on a bad day, which he has done since he was first elected.

“I have been able to spend breakfast with my children, and I guess that has allowed me to attend all of those very significant school or other events, where clearly other MPs have not been able to do that,” he says.

From a family point of view, Mr Brake can rest easy at the prospect of another general election.

“Fortunately my children are nearly off our hands – my daughter is working full time now and my son is hopefully about to go to university,” he says.