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  1. Electing and Ejecting Party Leaders
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  5. John Smith and the path Britain did not take

He had put principles and politics before fatherhood. The campaign saw a return to the more traditional pattern of the focus on the female candidates. All were coded neutral and the men did not appear to use their family in the campaign. For the second time ever for a main UK party, the campaign included two female candidates, a mother and a non-mother.

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Once again, motherhood was used to differentiate between the women; this time explicitly by one of the candidates. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be part of what happens next. It is clear something was different in and In both campaigns, the motherhood of one candidate was directly contrasted to the childlessness of the other female candidate suggesting some form of maternal mandate. However, the comparison was not always negative for May. Beckett was unlikely to win the leadership which could account for the lessened concentration on her private life.

However, Prescott and she were also in an even contest for the deputy leadership; furthermore, in , Kendall was unlikely to win yet faced discussion of her childlessness. Overall, these elections suggest a more complex picture of the maternal mandate considered in the discussion below. Table 3 Number of articles mentioning childlessness. In , Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for putting his political convictions above family.

This poses the question of what we mean by parenthood, is it simply having children? A limitation of individual leadership elections is they are small N case studies which are often context specific. Yet, telling the story of what is happening over these elections reveals interesting parallels and themes and changing images of parenthood in modern British political leaders, although findings and conclusions remain tentative. In the British context, parenthood and politics is discussed indirectly via the personalisation of politics.

In this original case study analysis, no support was found for the hypothesis that stems from this thesis, that parenthood is increasingly important regardless of sex of the candidate. Counter-intuitively, family mentions as a proportion of overall coverage were lower in and than in , although they rose again in Support for personalisation was seen regarding the male candidates in and when their family were of more interest than in In further support for personalisation, at varying points across all elections both male and female candidates used their family to manipulate their image.

But why you are a novelty could be gendered. As women and mothers are more visible in the public sphere interest in their domestic arrangements could be decreasing, only 4. In addition, he did not have the usual supportive wife looking after the children, his wife was a successful Barrister. In and , two women running against each other was a novelty, especially given the last stage of the campaign meant the UK was guaranteed its second-ever woman prime minister.

This would suggest the personalisation of politics thesis may be more complex and gender plays a role in this. The clear finding through these elections was that when mothers ran their motherhood was undoubtedly of interest. Furthermore, in two elections for opposing parties only a year apart where two women ran their differing parental status became a discussion point in both campaigns. This raises the question of whether motherhood is being politicised in the way it has been suggested in the U. Studying the British case lends some support to Politicised Motherhood being present in the UK context and may have begun earlier than found in the U.

How motherhood was politicised varied between candidates. The representations of Thatcher and Cooper resonate with concepts of Politicised Motherhood, specifically in the case of Cooper. As her colleague Goodman implied there was something about being a mother that made Cooper different and arguably better than the non-mother candidate. These parallels between Thatcher and Cooper suggest motherhood may not have substantively changed across these elections. The image of Cooper as the how-does-she-do-it woman may simply be a more modernised version of Thatcher as the competent housewife.

Thatcher was depicted as the domestic housewife, a more common role for women at the time. Cooper represented a modern norm of a working mother. For both, their balancing of domestic and public life was thought to show an added level of competency and special ability. Given that we might expect a decrease in gender-based stereotypes as social roles and norms change this finding is particularly interesting as it seems that what a mother can look like may have changed but the media are still framing women via their motherhood in line with traditional ideas of gender-stereotyping.

Leadsom offered on occasion a more traditional image of motherhood talking about her enjoyment in making roast dinners for her husband and children.

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Further research would be beneficial to examine partisan differences in images of motherhood as both Conservative women presented this more traditional picture. If motherhood is politicised this begs the question of whether we see a resultant maternal mandate? Evidence for a mandate can be seen but it is not necessarily that there is a penalty for women.

For both Kendall and May, their childlessness was portrayed as a point of weakness for their opponents to attack.

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For Kendall, however, as a single and childless woman coverage was more negative; whereas for May, who chose to speak publically about her private disappointment, coverage was more mixed. The maternal mandate may be more complex than originally conceptualised above. Childlessness was a weakness. At this point one can only speculate on the reasons for this and an avenue for future research could be to conduct interviews with those involved in the election campaign. There are two possible explanations.

Firstly, did May believe her childlessness would be a point of discussion and therefore addressed it early on—the expectation of a maternal mandate? It is worth noting that Nicola Sturgeon, the childless First Minister of Scotland, more recently spoke about her experience of a miscarriage and childlessness Brooks Again, only speculation can be made here.

In and , when two women were running this may not have been present. Could it be that this maternal mandate is made explicit when there are multiple women in a race? Yet, this maternal mandate is more complex than my original hypothesis. It does not seem that women are necessarily criticised for being childless but it is a point of discussion for women, which they may feel obligated to publically address, in a way not seen for men.

If there is some evidence for Politicised Motherhood in the UK case, it is noticeable that fatherhood was not framed in the same way.

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In and , little was made of fatherhood. Yet, fatherhood was of interest. There were several references to this idea in , although not specifically about parenthood. Willie Whitelaw tried to show himself as the modern suburban husband washing up saucepans in the kitchen which was said to be a response to images of Thatcher bringing in the milk bottles.

This suggests having a woman in the race changed the male behaviour. This could be down to changing gender norms, maybe this modern man image is no longer unusual enough to warrant increased attention. It should be considered was a shorter campaign where the men were voted out earlier than the women. Just as the Conservative women presented a more traditional image of motherhood the Conservative men shied away from the modern man image. Does it allow men to occupy more feminised domestic images?

This may suggest that the personalisation of politics for men and a resultant focus on the domestic could also stem from changing ideas around gender and leadership. Further questions flow from this as to what it means for different types of fatherhood, such as the more traditional idea of the breadwinner father with a wife at home? And, can male candidates more readily opt-out of any increased focus on family than their female counterparts?

This original case study analysis examined the role of gender and parenthood in political leadership via the media coverage of four party leadership elections in the UK. The story was more complex than expected. No evidence was found for the hypothesis stemming from the personalisation thesis, that family increasingly plays a role in the images of politicians.

The presence of women could change how parenthood is portrayed when considering political leaders: When the field was all men with traditional supportive wives looking after the children perhaps family was less of a point of discussion. The arrival of a woman and mother punctuated this equilibrium and may have changed the political leadership terrain. In , Thatcher came to the fore and used her family to portray a certain image. It was suggested the male candidates reacted to this within the domestic sphere.

By the s, family was now central to male leadership contenders. In , the focus is on Blair as a family man.

How Britain’s Labour Party was transformed, and how to stop it from happening here

By and , we have women running against each other which brought motherhood to the fore. In both elections, motherhood or lack of was used to differentiate between the female candidates and non-motherhood was an issue suggesting a form of maternal mandate was present.

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Firstly, are there two streams of personalisation dependent on the sex of the politician? Secondly, is there a maternal mandate in the UK when a woman with children runs against a woman without? Thirdly, has the image of leadership and parenthood become more feminised?

If so, how does this affect views of fatherhood and the domestic images men portray? And finally, what role does partisanship play in the use of parenthood by politicians?

What is clear is that there is a gender effect when we consider the role of parenthood in political leadership. When two women ran against each other in contests for differing political parties no more than a year apart their motherhood was an issue, whether that was raised by the media or by the candidates themselves. Looking at this simply from a gender angle is not sufficient on its own. A systematic view of both men and women over four decades tells a story about how candidates such as Blair and Thatcher punctuated the norm and how there can still be a trade-off for childless women in the public sphere.

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John Smith and the path Britain did not take

Article Navigation. Close mobile search navigation Article Navigation. Volume Article Contents. Parenthood and politics. Method and hypotheses.