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Politicians act like babies with their attitudes to breastfeeding

By Jane Graham

Published 13/11/2015

So natural: breastfeeding should not be frowned upon
So natural: breastfeeding should not be frowned upon

The Conservative MP Sir Simon Burns is worried about the House of Commons being mocked in the Press. Simon frets about politicians, who should be bastions of propriety, being derided in the media as if they were no better than vulgar chaps from the underclass. So, he's decided to take a stand. Against breastfeeding in the chamber.

If we allow MPs to breastfeed in the Commons, Sir Simon sternly warned us this week, we "risk ridicule" in the tabloids.

"There is an appropriate time and place," he said, and as a stressed-out mother of hungry twins who are perpetually screaming for his plentiful breast milk, he should know.

There's one thing I heartily agree with Sir Simon on. I, too, am concerned that MPs have put themselves in the vulnerable position of doing things which have made them easy targets for media attacks.

That time it turned out loads of them were stealing money from the public purse by claiming for unnecessary second homes - some of them for ducks - well, that was a bit of a red neck. Then there were those stories about back door lobbying on behalf of anyone willing to pay them; sure, that didn't look good in the papers.

But setting an example about the acceptability of breastfeeding your baby in public - I'm not as sure as Sir Simon that this is A Bad Thing.

The popular argument in the Commons, which discussed removing the current ban this week, is that the chamber is a workplace like any other and there are some workplaces where neither babies, nor discreetly dispensing breasts, are appropriate, or advisable.

I agree the second point. No matter how much we want to normalise breastfeeding, it's probably not best practice halfway up a pylon, or halfway down a delicate descent onto an airport runway.

Where it can be done without risk, or intrusion into enterprise, however, it should be. As well as the well-documented health benefits, there's also an issue about moving towards a society in which essential activities involving women's bodies are not regarded as embarrassing, or audacious.

If we lived in a world in which men had periods, given birth and breastfed for millennia, I have no doubt our trains, restaurants and MPs' workplaces would be teeming with open shirts, exposed hairy chests and happy, suckling babies. And we'd never have paid tax on tampons, either; they'd have been free from GPs from the start.

Of course, breastfeeding can't be accommodated in every environment. But one in which everyone sits on sofas, some in a light doze, is probably one of the easiest locations to try it. Also, the Commons, like Stormont, is not a "workplace like any other", it's a workplace broadcast regularly on television, filled with people getting paid to represent the population.

Its codes of practice should be above and beyond that of a struggling small business. It should strive to be an ideal, which treats both genders with the utmost understanding and compassion.

And, as MPs keep telling us they'd like to balance up its 70/30 male/female ratio, not alienating new mums, some of whom manage to maintain their brain-power and commitment to the job even after giving birth, would be a powerfully symbolic start.

Just this year Stormont, aware of Northern Ireland's poor take-up rate compared to the UK, signed up to the Breastfeeding Welcome Here scheme, aiming to make the building a friendly zone for mums with babies in tow. Great stuff.

Now I'd like to see MLAs in the chamber put their money where their mouth is. Or their babies' mouths, to really make the point.

All change for the Loaded generation

Defunct lads' mag Loaded has re-loaded, but its new online-only persona (now owned by publishers of The Irish Post) is notably different to the one which made it such a successful pioneer in the Nineties.

Rather than a scantily clad superbabe, the new edition has a suited and flip-flopped Colin Farrell on the "front page".

And though the mag hasn't abandoned its interest in beautiful women (why should it?), there is equal emphasis on interesting men.

Playboy also announced recently it was dropping images of naked women, as the practice is now "passe" and low-rent and they wanted to focus on "the guy with a job".

Curiouser and curiouser.

I can't agree with Phil good factor

Phil Collins is making a comeback, which has prompted revisionist reconsiderings of his uncool status during his Eighties heyday.

Brave journalists are queuing up to combat hipster elitism, admitting they secretly loved the balding old chap and even cried when he sang about taking a love chance against all odds.

I think there's a time and place for hipster elitism and using it to combat Phil Collins (above) is as good as it gets.

His work is, at best, trite, cliched, heavy-handed and soulless. He wasn't uncool because of snobbery, he was uncool because he was very bad indeed.

Let's put this one to bed.

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