I originally wanted to start Michael Taylor’s The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery this week, but having learned of Shirley Williams’ (distinguished MP and daughter of Vera Brittain) passing (Guardian obituary here), I put Women of Westminster: The MPs who Changed Politics ahead of other books.
This also tied in nicely with my attempt to finally finish Laura Beer’s biography of Ellen Wilkinson (Red Ellen: The Life of Ellen Wilkinson, Socialist, Feminist, Internationalist), which in turn might tie in nicely with a re-read of Wilkinson’s excellent Golden Age Mystery The Division Bell Mystery, which is in the running for being June’s side read of the Appointment With Agatha group (on Goodreads).
Having read Mary Beard’s excellent Foreword and Rachel Reeves’ Introduction to the book, I could already tell that this book would be as infuriating a read as Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.
Women of Westminster was jam-packed with information and quotes and everything I hoped the book would be except for one thing: I wish Reeves had given us more analysis of the impact that she credits to each of the women that is featured.
I.e. the book could do with a little more context on how the different achievements changed the politics of their day. Reeves provides this for some of the MPs, especially in the later part of the book, but not for all.
It’s a minor quibble.
Women of Westminster offered an insight into the biographies of UK women Members of Parliament as well as the workings of Westminster, a history lesson in how certain legislation came to pass, and best of all how efforts in parliament responded to – or even drove in one instance (seatbelts) – to changes in society.
This has been a much better read than I expected to be honest. I was a little doubtful over a book written by a politician and was wondering if Reeves was using the book to push any Labour agenda. However, as even Margaret Thatcher gets dealt with fairly (certainly more favourably than I would have expected – and I am no fan of hers either), I have really enjoyed the book.
Alas, Reeves’ book only covers the years until 2018 and, therefore, misses out on the turbulent aftermath of Theresa May’s government. Maybe that was a good thing, because it would have infuriated me to have to relive the political events that followed. Still, I would have liked to read Reeves’ take on them.