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  1. Diary
19 July 2023

Why MPs are fleeing Westminster

Also this week: Rage at Wimbledon and Tory snobbery over “Mickey Mouse” degrees.

By Jess Phillips

I am useless at being ill. I recognise that this sounds like a lame response to the interview question “What, if any, are your faults?”. It is, of course, a humblebrag. I have been sick with what I think is labyrinthitis for nearly two weeks. It has led to me losing much of the hearing in my right ear and a series of amusing moments of dizziness, which has caused me to fall off chairs in meetings with government officials. My husband threatened to lock me in the house if I didn’t rest, but still I attended a four-hour school graduation ceremony. 

My constituents – who never fail to call a spade a spade – commented that I looked both “old” and “rough” while I was in an evening advice surgery. Frankly, I was grateful for their back-handed sympathy. When I was later pulled off air and stopped from doing a paper review on TalkTV by some concerned producers, journalists and presenters, their kindness made me weep. I am far more of a fan of the sympathy that my parents meted out in my childhood: “Never mind, probably best if you just die quietly.” 

[See also: Why the EU has out-Trumped Trump]

The sense of obligation that MPs feel to local schools and fundraisers, constituents and by-election candidates – and to voting on the dreadful Illegal Migration Bill – is by no means universal in Westminster, but the majority of us will push through and keep working against all advice and reason. The Sunday Times Magazine recently covered the perils of being a politician, and analysed why so many MPs have announced that they are standing down at the next general election – having burnt out in less than ten years. The article cites YouGov figures that 66 per cent of the public think MPs are only in it for ourselves.

For many, the exodus from Westminster is a case of jumping before being pushed, but after two weeks of vomiting in between meetings and no longer being able to hear, I suspect some may very well just want a break. 

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Breaking Novak Djokovic

Apparently Carlos Alcaraz is the only male singles Wimbledon winner ever to have a “z” in his name. A male name with the letter “q” has never lifted the golden pineapple trophy, and so now is the time to train little Quentin up to be a tennis ace. In my view, Novak Djokovic should have been forced to play with the racket he ruined in a fit of rage, when his serve was broken by the young Alcaraz during the Wimbledon final on 16 July. A sort of banger car racing version of tennis is what the people want to see. At points, Djokovic looked perplexed at the crowd’s support for his young underdog opponent – he can’t seem to win them over with his views on women’s pay in tennis, his breach of a nation’s vaccination rules and his racket-smashing outbursts. It truly is a mystery. 

[See also: Why Wimbledon is made for radio]

Voting into the void

Round and round and round we walked, voting on the House of Lords’ amendments to the Illegal Migration Bill. The first session took three and a half hours, the second two hours. It really is something to spend so much time losing votes on altering aspects of the bill, such as by offering support to victims of modern slavery brought here illegally to be sold for sexual servitude or to harvest their organs. I am grateful to the decent Tory MPs who thought, “Hang on a minute, I’m not sure I like the forced prostitution of vulnerable people, regardless of how they arrived in our country.” Alas there were too few who had the necessary morals and strength.

It feels to me like the very definition of madness that this is how our democracy works: hours wasted on a foregone conclusion that in the end will amount to no change because the bill is as useless as it is cruel. I am not that fussed about modernising our voting system – I’ll get around to that once I have stopped people being trafficked for their kidneys – but during these past few weeks of parliament, the farce has been real.

Mickey Mouse politics

I see that the Tories are trying to crack down on  university degrees that they don’t think are worthwhile. Like a broken record, they have gone back to moaning about “Mickey Mouse degrees”. It is snobbish nonsense. When my son picked his GCSEs recently, he chose a vocational course in health and social care, which I bet Rishi Sunak would not encourage for his kids. At the moment, my son has two aspirations for his life, aged 14 and 6ft, he wants to train to become the World’s Strongest Man and also to be a social worker. We’ve settled on him becoming the world’s strongest social worker, which seems more achievable. My other son is studying maths A-level and is something of a numeric savant, so at least I’ll have one child of which Sunak’s government will be proud. My eldest can work out the power that will be needed for my youngest to drag a bus full of people out of poverty.

[See also: Why adults should put their phones away]

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This article appears in the 19 Jul 2023 issue of the New Statesman, How Saudi Arabia is buying the world