CHERIE, YOU HYPOCRITE; Brutally Axed for Refusing to Go Full-Time, Louise Gives a Tantalising Insight into What It's like Working for Mrs Blair - 'Champion' of Womens' Rights

Daily Mail (London), March 22, 2014 | Go to article overview

CHERIE, YOU HYPOCRITE; Brutally Axed for Refusing to Go Full-Time, Louise Gives a Tantalising Insight into What It's like Working for Mrs Blair - 'Champion' of Womens' Rights


Byline: Helen Weathers

SUMMONED for a meeting at the magnificent multi-millionpound Connaught Square London home of Cherie Blair QC, single mother-of-two Louise Allain felt as nervous as a prep school pupil facing a teacher she'd somehow displeased. Louise, a part-time worker in Mrs Blair's private office, felt a distinct and uncomfortable chill in the air as she smoothed her charity shop clothes and calmly prepared to make an impassioned appeal to her boss as one mother to another. The former Prime Minister's wife, a passionate advocate for family-friendly, flexible employment policies, had always been sympathetic to Louise's needs as a single parent before. But, somehow, something had changed. Mrs Blair seemed curt, abrupt and rather severe as she asked why Louise hadn't jumped at the offer of a new full-time, five-day-a-week position earning PS27,000 a year? Why too, Mrs Blair enquired, was Louise unable to change her hours in her existing role as receptionist to begin half-an-hour earlier? 'I'd never seen Cherie like this before. She'd always been very genial, equable and accessible,' says Louise, 41, who worked 9.30am to 3pm three days a week so she could do the school run, until she was made redundant in February. 'Cherie, having been so sympathetic, suddenly seemed very dogmatic. She was adamant that not being in work by 9am was insubordination that was her exact word. She seemed cross that staff were failing to implement changes made by the new Chief Operating officer she'd brought in who wanted me to start work half an hour earlier at 9am. I was shocked and felt like I was back in Form Three, being told off,' says Louise. 'After dropping my daughter at school, I was usually in the office by 9.10am and normally the calls didn't start coming in until after 9.30am, but I was told colleagues should not be expected to cover for me, even though they seemed more than happy to do so. "I couldn't understand Cherie's change in attitude. She'd offered me a part-time job knowing I need to work around my children's school hours. She'd been very receptive to that, but it was as if a switch had flicked off.' Louise, suddenly acutely aware of the gulf between her and high-achieving, designer-label-loving Mrs Blair, quietly argued her case as best she could. Her 14-year-old son who was in the same comprehensive school class as Mrs Blair's youngest child Leo and her daughter, nine, needed their mum at home at least part of the week. As their sole carer, she didn't want to be gone before they'd brushed their teeth in the morning and home after they'd had dinner every night of the week. Louise offered a solution and suggested working two full days a week, so she could still be, as she puts it, a proper mum. Not only did Louise need her job, she loved it. She didn't want to go back to benefits, wondering how she was going to pay the bills and the rent on her housing association flat in Victoria without asking for hand-outs from her family. Louise left the 35-minute meeting tearful, but believing she had won Mrs Blair over. The barrister seemed to have softened as her employee stated her case. She seemed willing to agree to Louise's alternative part-time plan and told her to discuss it with her Chief Operating Officer. Which is what you might have expected. After all, just a few months earlier, painting herself as an outspoken champion of working mothers, Mrs Blair had penned an article for the Observer newspaper headlined: All women should have the chance to have a family and a career. In the piece Mrs Blair wrote: 'Changing our society so our workplaces are truly open to the talents and life choices of women needs real leadership and effort.' She went on: 'Certainly the culture of work needs to change . . . our working culture is still dominated by the need to be at our desk for long hours of the day.' Louise's request to continue working part-time afforded the perfect opportunity for Mrs Blair to practise what she preaches. …

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CHERIE, YOU HYPOCRITE; Brutally Axed for Refusing to Go Full-Time, Louise Gives a Tantalising Insight into What It's like Working for Mrs Blair - 'Champion' of Womens' Rights
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