As an eight-year-old girl, Alex Davies-Jones remembers watching her father break down in tears.
The tough, traditionally masculine coal miner from the South Wales Valleys could hardly believe his eyes as he watched a Labour government be elected for the first time in 23 years.
“He was crying like a baby,” Davies-Jones reminisces as she sits at a coffee table in a bustling Portcullis House.
It was a lightbulb moment for the 32-year-old MP for Pontypridd, who was raised with the “values of socialism and trade unionism always embedded in me”.
“At eight years old, it made me sit up and think ‘this is something big here, this really matters’."
There was no stopping Davies-Jones from that point on. In primary school the ambitious young girl from the Valleys had her first taste of leadership after being elected head girl, and at the dawn of the new millennium Davies-Jones experienced a second lightbulb moment as she watched her local AM Jane Davidson be appointed environment minister in the Welsh Assembly.
“She was the first female politician I’d ever seen who wasn’t Margaret Thatcher. A female politician, doing incredible work, who was perceived as a good person. Everybody liked her and she was really inspiring.
“That was another wake up and notice moment… women actually being there front and centre.”
Years later, that’s exactly where the MP has positioned herself. Davies-Jones’ father, the tough Valleys coal miner, was “proud as punch” as he watched his daughter be elected as the first woman to represent Pontypridd in Parliament, in December 2019.
“It still gives me goosebumps now thinking about it, and what it means to [my family],” Davies-Jones says.
In the space of two years, the young MP has carved out a reputation as a talented and well-liked politician, respected by Members across the House and unbound by factional ties within her own party.
In 2020 she joined two select committees – Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Women and Equalities – and early this year she was also appointed as shadow minister for Northern Ireland.
Despite her rapid rise, turning up to Parliament remains a “pinch me” experience. “I remember Harriet Harman held a reception for new women MPs in 2019 and we were all very young,” DaviesJones says.
“She said to us, if you ever lose that feeling of ‘pinch me’ then you should get out of here. When you lose that gratitude for being elected to serve your area and the people you represent, you shouldn’t be an MP anymore.”
Across the House, MPs have called for greater diversity and representation in Parliament. Centuries of restricting the apex of power to old, wealthy men appears in decline, something DaviesJones welcomes.
“People realise that what they want from politics isn’t what we’ve had before. They want politics to look and sound like them, and they want it to be representative.
“For me that’s quite exciting, [it is] about what the future of politics in our country looks like.”
As a young female MP, Davies-Jones is among a growing number breaking barriers in Parliament – but she is aware a host of challenges remain, particularly for those with young children.
“It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a village to be an MP,” Davies-Jones says.
“Everybody’s personal situation is unique, but when you come at it with caring responsibilities, whether you’re a mum or you’re caring for elderly parents, your life gets pulled in different directions.”
When she was first elected, Davies-Jones would bring her “pandemic baby” son up to London, as he was still being breast fed. Now, the MP is “privileged” her family in Wales can help out with Sulley, now two years old, on days she’s required in Parliament.
“When I’m in Westminster, I’m away from him and it’s gut wrenching, but we have lots of FaceTime. I make sure when I’m in the constituency on the weekends if I’m doing community events, or visiting a group, I bring him along with me or try and involve him as much as I can.”
Davies-Jones says she was disappointed at the letter sent by the House authorities to fellow Labour MP Stella Creasy, reprimanding her for bringing her three-month-old baby into a debate in Westminster Hall.
“I spoke to the Speaker in 2019 about my own experiences about being a new mum and new MP and trying to juggle both roles, about if the need ever arose, would I be able to breast feed in the chamber? I was assured that yes of course.
“Now it seems we’ve done a bit of a U-turn and I’m really disappointed in this backwards step. It seems like the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’ isn’t friendly to mothers.”
Despite the seeming universality of the challenges facing working mums, Davies-Jones insists mothers in the Commons don’t necessarily share a special bond or mutual understanding.
“When you talk to some of the MPs who are mothers and you find out about their army of nannies, or the private schools they choose to send their children to – which is fine, that’s their choice – it’s a very, very different situation. We’re not all in the same boat.”
Davies-Jones is also more than a politician juggling Westminster and a young son. At Labour Conference in Brighton this year the MP wowed a nightclub packed full of sweaty party members, MPs and journalists, with her karaoke rendition of Celine Dion’s It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.
It’s therefore no surprise that Davies-Jones, a keen singer in her spare time, has made an impression with her work for the DCMS Committee.
“I play a number of instruments and I love sports. Music is
desperately important to me – my dad played in brass bands his entire life and my grandma was an opera singer.”
Davies-Jones wants to see more public spending directed to culture and the arts, a “huge contributor to the economy”, requiring “more prominent focus” from government. She’d like ministers to “shout about how brilliant Britain is” as a global destination hub for the arts.
“When you look at our sporting prowess, our cultural impact and musical ability, we need to capture that and use it much more strategically than we have done previously,” Davies-Jones says.
“If I can be a champion for these things then I desperately will be. Especially for women in these industries, who for many decades have been overlooked and seen as the pretty bit on the side – nice to have but not the focus.”
With her passion for DCMS policymaking and scrutiny, does Davies-Jones see herself as a future culture secretary?
“I don’t know, maybe home secretary?” the MP suggests. “It’s something I’ve always looked at. I’m really interested in violence against women and girls– how we can do some serious work there.
Defra [the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] really interests me as well… infrastructure in the built environment is something I’ve got a personal interest in and I’m a massive champion for animal welfare.”
For now, Davies-Jones is committed to her shadow ministerial brief, as well as constituency and select committee work.
And she relishes sharing her knowledge and advice with young people aspiring to Parliament now.
“Get involved, get active. Find out what’s happening in your community and how you can help make it the best place to be – to grow up and to grow old in,” she says.
“If there’s something you don’t like, how can you change it? Let’s work together to try and find a solution to the problem.”
With young MPs like Davies-Jones to aspire to, there should be plenty more fathers in the South Wales Valleys feeling “proud as punch” as their daughters take up positions of power in Westminster for years and years to come.
“I spoke to the Speaker in 2019 about if the need ever arose, would
I be able to breast feed in the chamber? I was assured that yes of course”