In Room A, an anonymous title for a long, graceful room in the House of Commons, overlooking the river, Conservative women MPs last night were celebrating (writes Mavis Landen).
It was a quiet enough affair, plenty of talk, cups of tea and chocolate éclairs, to mark a revolutionary day in the life of women. For a week today is the 40th anniversary of the day the first woman took her seat as an MP. It was Lady Astor, a Conservative, who first broke into the all-male House. (A woman Sinn Feiner became an MP a year earlier but did not take her seat.)
But the women MPs who were celebrating yesterday represented a larger company (12 Conservatives and 13 Socialists) and, they would be the first to admit, still pretty sparse among over 600 men.
Few of these women MPs now argue the case for more women Members. They are content to leave women to drive through prejudice in constituencies (mostly prejudice of other women), get adopted and then elected, if lucky.
Two new women MPs who have yet to make their maiden speeches were at the party—Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley) and Miss Harvie Anderson (East Renfrewshire).
Mrs. Thatcher, much photographed since taking her seat because she is attractive and the mother of six-year-old twins, was at the Bar before becoming an MP.
She told me that she found more prejudice against women at the Bar than she has in Parliament. She had intended to wait six months before venturing to make her maiden speech. But now it will probably be on February 5, because a Private Member's Bill she put down is to be heard on that day.
Finance her subject
Mrs. Thatcher's “bent” as she puts it, is for finance. But she has a definite interest in women's subjects—subjects such as home safety and the abolition of the earnings rule for widowed mothers.
Miss Anderson says she has not noticed prejudice against women in the House, although she had in constituencies—women being a woman's fiercest opponent. “A corrollary to that is, once adopted, women in the constituencies are utterly loyal to a woman candidate.”
Her rule on clothes at the House is to wear something that takes her through the day and is comfortable. If she buys a hat, it must slip in her handbag or she loses it.
Miss Joan Vickers, who raised her majority in the General Election higher than any other woman, has perhaps the strictest rules for dressing.
She always wears black or grey. She concentrates on simple dresses, neat shoes and buys four to six hats a year. “With a new hat, no-one notices what dress you are wearing,” she says. But she is under-estimating her dress sense. She is one of the best-dressed women in Parliament.