[I wrote this for LibDemVoice, where it was published yesterday
A baby in a sling makes an amazing Conference icebreaker. Over the five days I lost count of the number of people who stopped to admire my darling and ask questions, to the point where occasionally I gave the answers without being asked ("11 weeks", "Nicholas", "no, not after the Leader, after his father's uncle
). During the day when I wasn't carrying him, I frequently got stopped and asked "where's your baby?".
"In the crèche," I would reply, and almost always got the response "There's a crèche?"
Yes, there is a crèche at conference, on site inside the secure area and just a few minutes walk from the auditorium. It runs from 8:30am to 6pm and the cost is subsidised by the party to ensure access for all parents. The staff are qualified professional childcare workers. They were wonderful, asking me about my son's routine and adapting to my preferred parenting approach. We managed breastfeeding-on-demand via text message most of the time, but I was also able to block out times when I needed to be completely uninterrupted, such as when I had a speaker's card in for a debate.
The crèche allowed me to fully participate in the business of conference: debates, votes, speeches, lunchtime fringes and at one point a campaign meeting. Without it, I could not have attended at all. With the crèche, I had the best of both worlds: regular cuddles with my son grounding me in between policy debates & ministerial Q&As.
My mother tells me that as a baby I was part of a protest at Liberal Party conference about the lack of crèche. The front row was filled with activists and their babies for the Leader's speech. The following conference had a crèche. It remains vital for keeping activists included and involved after they have children.
This week I return to work part-time, while my husband reduces his working hours to cover the days I am working. I realised during conference that if I had similar close good-quality childcare at work, I would happily be returning full-time, able to fit in my eight hours a day around three or four "baby breaks". Sadly there isn't any such childcare available, so part-time it is for now.
I am glad and grateful that party conference has set such a high standard for keeping parents included. Nico and I will be back in the spring.