Women in Westminster - a farewell blog

Just over a fifth of MPs in Westminster are women. Photo: PA Wire

Being chased around the filing cabinets by a well-known government minister isn't something you often hear about in Westminster. But in an interview with the House magazine, that's what the former cabinet minister Shirley Williams reveals happened to her.

Things have hopefully moved on since then. But as I prepare to leave the political beat to move abroad, I thought I'd dedicate my last ITV News blog to the issue of women in Westminster.

Let's face it, there still aren't many - just over a fifth of MPs are female, although they more than hold up their own. I can think of at least two from the 2010 intake who would make excellent future Prime Ministers.

But why are there still so few women politicians, and for that matter, women journalists in Parliament? There are many theories, not least the long hours. Even though the Commons has made great strides in becoming more family-friendly, the political life doesn't fit well with child care arrangements.

After I came back from maternity leave, ITN (my employer) allowed me to job-share. In fact the small ITV News bureau at Westminster is evenly split between men and women, with 3 of us working part-time (though still very hard, I might add!)

ITV News Political Correspondent Alex Forrest questions why there are so few women in Westminster. Credit: ITV News

I may be wrong, but I can't think of a single female lobby correspondent at one of the newspapers who job-shares. I know some who would have liked to, but to ask their bosses? It's just not considered the done thing at Westminster.

And yet even women politicians are now openly raising the issue. Back to the House magazine, and Lib Dem Jo Swinson wonders if MPs might one day job-share; former Tory MP Louise Mensch discusses the possibility of ministerial aides (PPSs) splitting the role. Is it practical? Could it ever happen in Westminster? I doubt any time soon.

While the work/life balance continues to evolve in the UK, I'm heading off to a country where most women are in jobs and those jobs are full-time. That's because in Denmark it's a 9 til 5 culture (God forbid!) where child care is heavily subsidised.

There are lots of arguments for and against the system, but I am looking forward to seeing how it works. Perhaps I might even get the chance to ask the Danish Prime Minister what she thinks about it all.