Women in Westminster: In Conversation With Nickie Aiken MP
Nickie Aiken entered Parliament in 2019. She has rapidly established a reputation as a passionate advocate for women’s health issues. As part of our Women in Westminster series, she sat down with PoliticsHome to share her experiences in politics so far, and her hopes for the future.
“I don’t really believe in regrets,” Nickie Aiken tells PoliticsHome during our sit-down conversation. “Take every opportunity that arises. That was my dad’s biggest piece of advice for me growing up. Pick up every opportunity you are given. Try everything once.”
It is this philosophy which led to Aiken entering Parliament in 2019, representing the Cities of London and Westminster.
“I never actually had any plans to become an MP,” she recalls with a smile. “Then the opportunity came up. It was the only seat I would ever want to represent. I thought: ‘If I don’t go for it someone else will get elected and I will probably spend the rest of my life regretting it.’”
Aiken’s desire to “try everything once” speaks to a drive and determination – qualities that she believes were shaped by her childhood reading habits. Quizzed about her early influences, Aiken pinpoints Jo March, the strong-willed heroine of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women.
“Jo didn’t allow the norms of what was expected to stand in her way,” she tells us, recounting the powerful impact the book had on her as a child. “Jo has stayed with me for my whole life.”
That willingness to challenge established norms has furnished Aiken with a true campaigning zeal. Since entering Parliament, she has quickly earned a reputation as a committed and vocal advocate for women’s health issues.
“In a lot of cases, it is men who have made the policy and it is men who are at the top of the medical profession,” she tells us. “They do not experience what women experience. That is why it is important to have more women policymakers and legislators. People who know what it is like to have a period or to be pregnant.”
Aiken believes that women’s health issues may have been overlooked in the past precisely because women were not centrally involved in setting the policy framework. This is something she feels is starting to change.
“We need to have more women in power and more women MPs,” she tells us. “Constituents may feel more comfortable raising some issues with someone who has shared their experience. My Fertility Workplace Pledge campaign, for example, was triggered by a constituent coming to me and saying the law needs to change.”
Listening to Aiken, it is clear that she feels a very strong sense of connection with her constituents. She sees those that she represents as people and communities who have experiences that can help shape better legislation.
The closeness of Aiken’s relationship with constituents seems to have been shaped by her long background in local government. She was formerly the Leader of Westminster Council, a job she tells us she “absolutely loved”.
“I learnt a lot from my time as councillor and council leader that I now bring to the Commons,” she says. “And the biggest lesson I bring is that we are here to serve. We are here to improve people’s lives through legislation.”
Aiken believes that this can only happen if MPs both reflect the nation as a whole and operate to the very highest standards. Whilst being very positive about her own experiences as a woman in the Conservative party, she is certainly not blind to some of the remaining challenges that exist across Westminster.
“Being an MP is a bizarre role because we don’t have an employer,” she explains. “Which is why I think there have been some difficulties about how you hold MPs to account. I think we are getting there, slowly, with some of the systems we are now putting in place.”
Aiken sees the impact of poor behaviour as something that impacts on women across Westminster, highlighting, in particular, some of the challenges that those at the start of their careers may face.
However, she is optimistic that the culture in Westminster is gradually shifting. She tells us that this is helped in no small part by having an increasingly diverse Chamber.
“If we are going to represent the UK we have to look like the UK,” she explains. “The more we look like the people we serve, the more our work practices and our attitudes will improve and change.”
Where there is poor behaviour, Aiken is unambiguous that it must be challenged by MPs on all sides of the House.
“It is a small minority but it is about stamping down on that behaviour,” she explains. “There is a zero-tolerance approach to poor behaviour. It is a cross-party issue. I am a member of the House of Common’s Commission and the Commission and the Speaker are clear about the very high standards that are expected.”
One area Aiken highlights as being of particular concern is online abuse, an issue which affects women MPs from all parties.
“I think in 20 years, people will be truly shocked by what some women MPs have to deal with,” she tells PoliticsHome. “I hope legislation like the Online Safety Bill will be a step in the right direction.”
A common thread throughout our discussion is Aiken’s belief that increased diversity is not simply a “nice to have”. Instead, she views it as the cornerstone for effective policymaking. She is clear that having different perspectives and backgrounds in the Commons ultimately delivers legislation that is more likely to meet the needs of the British public.
She is hopeful that the fact that there is now increased visibility of women in public life will help inspire the next generation of female leaders.
“We have to have women’s voices heard in politics and across all walks of life,” she says. “Whether you are 18 or 88, you can always make a difference to the community that you live in. The only thing that will prevent you from standing is yourself. Women should go for it. You might fail but, hey, you tried.”
It feels like a message that could have come straight out of the mouth of Aiken’s childhood heroine, Jo March.
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