Hear, hear! The truth behind Blair’s babes and Cameron’s cuties

Today women constitute 52% of the British population, but just 22% of MPs in the House of Commons and 14% of the Cabinet

An audio archive charting modern women MP's representation in Westminster opens to the public today (6 September 2010) at the British Library.

In the 82 interviews, women MPs from across all political parties were asked what they thought of changes in the sitting hours of the Commons, all-women short-lists, the Suffragettes, how poorly the media treated them (commenting on their clothes and hair styles) and what they thought of being called 'Blair's Babes'. The archive, totalling 100 hours, allows many women MPs to tell their own story and set the record straight.

Charting the stories of women MPs, most of whom entered the House of Commons at the 1997 general election, the interviews were conducted a year before the 2005 general election. This was a sensitive time for all MPs, whatever party they were in, when Labour was suffering from the consequences of the Iraq war, struggling with contentious issues such as tuition fees and didn't know if it could secure a third-term in government.

The interviews - accessible at the British Library for the first time - were conducted by five senior broadcast journalists (Linda Fairbrother, Angela Lawrence, Deborah McGurran, Dr Eva Simmons and Boni Sones OBE) between May and October 2004, as part of the research for the Orwell Prize nominated book, Women in Westminster: The New Suffragettes (published in September 2005 by Boni Sones OBE with Professor Joni Lovenduski and Margaret Moran MP).

Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History at the British Library, commented:

“This archive charts the experiences of women MPs from both sides of the House and is an important corrective to the predominantly male narratives we have of the political process. The 1997 intake of 120 women MPs was the largest ever and this important collection of interviews, now available at the British Library, documents this new political generation in their own words."

Boni Sones OBE, who donated the archive to the British Library, said: “I am extremely grateful to the British Library for finding a home for this important audio archive and to the women MPs themselves across party who signed the permission forms to allow access to their audio to chart women's modern representation in the Commons."

“We discovered that some of the Conservative Party's male MPs in the mid-1980s still called all women 'Betty' and some made gestures across the Chamber that demoralised the Labour women of 1997, but there were heartening stories too. Both Harriet Harman MP and Gillian Shephard warmly greeted other women MPs even if they weren't from the same party. This archive is therefore named after both of them."

Notes to Editors

Boni Sones OBE is a writer and broadcaster. Her career spans thirty years in print, radio and TV journalism. Boni is better known for her work as Executive Producer of Women's Parliamentary Radio www.wpradio.co.uk for which she received an OBE in January 2009 for “Services to broadcasting and PR”. Her first book: “Women in Parliament: The New Suffragettes”, published by Methuen got onto the short-list for the Orwell Prize in Journalism in 2005. She began her career on the East Anglian Daily Times, going on to work for the Cheltenham Journal, the Cambridge Evening News, and BBC Look East. She has been a BBC correspondent on air and Political Editor in the East, and later helped set up BBC News 24 when it began. She now lives in Cambridge and works in Westminster.

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