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Women in Westminster: In Conversation With Tulip Siddiq MP

5 min read Partner content

Shadow economic secretary to the Treasury, Tulip Siddiq MP is helping shape Labour’s economic policy as we edge towards a general election. As part of our Women in Westminster series, PoliticsHome sat down with Siddiq to learn why she thinks that the battle for equality, in both politics and society, is far from won

Tulip Siddiq’s predecessor as MP for Hampstead and Kilburn was Oscar-winning actor Glenda Jackson, a woman who the shadow economic secretary to the Treasury describes as possessing, “immense resilience and drive.”

However, Siddiq is quick to point out that such attributes are hardly unique to women in public life. Indeed, she encounters those same qualities – of commitment, resilience, and courage, in the lives of the people that she represents.

“The women I meet in everyday life in my constituency are the people who really inspire me,” she tells PoliticsHome. “Like Mary in South Kilburn who has three jobs, escaped an abusive relationship, and has a young daughter who she wants to go to Cambridge. Or Linda who has a severely disabled child, is a carer for her mother and struggling because she has to go to food banks.”

It is a typically grounded answer. Siddiq has a well-deserved reputation as an MP with deep connections to her constituents and one who works tirelessly on their behalf. Her efforts to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from an Iranian prison won widespread praise from across the House and her commitment to the community she represents remains at the heart of her approach.  

Her attachment to her constituency and the people who live there is deeply personal as well as political. That has furnished her with a heartfelt sense of responsibility for the people that she represents.

“My mother came to this country in the 1970s as a political asylum seeker and settled in the constituency that I now represent,” she tells us. “It is a huge honour and a weight on your shoulders having to represent 80,000 people with very varied interests.”

Siddiq entered the Commons as an MP in 2015. She previously worked for several Labour MPs, including helping Ed Miliband’s campaign to become leader of the Labour Party and as a special advisor to Tessa Jowell.

During the period she has worked in and around Westminster, Siddiq has seen some positive changes when it comes to diversity. It is a far cry from her days as an intern in Parliament, when she “stuck out like a sore thumb because there were hardly any women of colour.”

That has changed, but Siddiq believes that much more remains to be done on diversity and equality issues. One trend that she does welcome is the increasing willingness of MPs to speak out to address poor behaviour not just in Parliament, but also more widely.

“I think what MPs are doing more and more now, and not just women MPs, is that they are calling out this unacceptable sexist culture that exists in workplaces,” she says. “It exists in the city. It exists in the private and public sectors. I think pretending this problem has gone away is burying your head in the sand. Parliamentarians aren't doing that.”

However, whilst accepting that some things have changed for the better, Siddiq tells PoliticsHome that although on the surface there appears to be more representation, that is often not reflected across all functions within Westminster and Whitehall.

“It's very easy from the outside to look at Parliament and think, ‘Oh, it's diverse because they've had this many women or people of colour as MPs’,” she explains. “But if you look at decision-making at every level of government, there isn't representation.”

Siddiq points to examples such as chairs of Select Committees, who play a crucial role in holding government to account. Across all Select Committees, departmental, topical, or internal, there is not a single chair who is from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background.

“I think the main thing you really recognise about Westminster when you've worked here as long as I have, is that there isn't diversity at every level,” she says. “Until that happens, I don't think it is truly a diverse working place.”

Siddiq’s focus however is less on Parliament as an institution and more on the engrained inequalities that exist across society. Throughout our sit-down conversation, Siddiq always returns the focus to equal pay and the structural inequalities that women face across the workforce, not just in Westminster.

“One in two women have experienced sexual harassment at work,” she points out. “I really feel if we do win the next election and I am a minister, that I've got to make some commitment to working with employers in the financial services sector and city because we need to create workplaces that are free from harassment. We can’t just say it's someone else's problem.”

As someone at the heart of Labour’s economic policy agenda, addressing some of the structural inequalities that women face is high on Siddiq’s agenda, should her party gain power. In particular, she is passionate about accelerating progress in closing the earnings gap that impacts on women in the UK.

“It's shocking to think that current trends are saying it could take until 2050 for men and women to be paid the same,” she says. “That's unacceptable. How are we in 2024, saying, oh, we'll have to wait till 2050?”

That impatience to deliver change is what drives Siddiq. It is what makes her resilient in the face of the increasingly toxic opposition that women politicians sometimes face.

“You know, politics is quite a brutal business these days,” she says. “But it is such an opportunity to make change on behalf of your communities. Every time I see Nazanin [Zaghari-Ratcliffe] in the street with her family, I just think, ‘this was worth it.’”

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Read the most recent article written by Total Politics Impact - Women in Westminster: In Conversation with Joeli Brearley

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