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Audio Archive Charting Modern Women MP’s Opens at the British Library

An audio archive charting modern women MP’s representation in Westminster opened to the public on 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.”

The British Library Sound Archive ( is one of the largest sound archives in the world. It holds over a million discs, 200,000 tapes, and many other sound and video recordings. The collections come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound from music, drama and literature, to oral history and wildlife sounds. Collection material comes in every conceivable format, from wax cylinder and wire recordings to CD and DVD, and from a wide variety of private, commercial and broadcast sources.

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages.

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