I have long felt that the party conference season is a waste of time. I’m all for a forum for political party members to discuss and decide on policy but I’m not entirely sure why the Commons has to shut – couldn’t we do it at the weekend? This year, more than ever, it seems an indulgence too far for legislators to have the time off to drink warm wine and collect pens and mugs from the exhibition hall. We should, of course, be in Westminster working on the most difficult question of our generation, but alas parliament is shut down.
The Lib Dems were up first in sunny Bournemouth – there is nothing quite like a beachfront to offer newscasters the opportunity for windswept vox pops of “ordinary people” not caring a jot about the huge political event in their town. While my WhatsApp was alive with rumours about the latest defection – and people asking whether it would be me – Susan and Alan of Pokesdown, Bournemouth were probably watching Pointless. I honestly wonder if anyone pays the blindest bit of notice to these political spectacles. Perhaps Theresa May was playing a blinder when she lost her voice, got pranked and the stage fell apart around her. At least she cut through.
The Labour Party is off to Brighton and I am sure there will be big calls for parliament to be reopened and a brush-up about Brexit policy that will end with everyone, grudgingly, on the same page. Let me tell you, the party’s current ability to get on the same page, however grudgingly, seems to me as great as I have ever experienced it.
The Tories are off to Manchester, and my lovely city of Birmingham can breathe a sigh of relief for at least 12 months. Why is it that the Tories insist on holding their conference in cities that will never vote for them and are full of thousands of people who are ready and willing to protest outside their shindig? I am so looking forward to Boris Johnson’s walkabout in Manchester town centre – people in the north have so far given his premiership such a warm welcome… In the now legendary words of one bloke in Wakefield, to our apparently popular PM, I hope that the Mancs sing “Please leave my town” to the tune of “I Wanna Be Adored” by the Stone Roses.
My week in court
I’m one of the MPs who is intervening in the Supreme Court case against the prorogation of parliament. My intervention is specifically about the dropping of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which was caused by the premature shutdown. When I told my mate I was intervening in the case, she thought it meant trying to stop it – it doesn’t, but it made me pause for thought about all the new bloody language everyone is having to learn in this Brexit hellscape.
In my head my intervention was me in a sharp shift dress and flawless, scuffless heels à la Alicia in The Good Wife. In reality it was me in my pyjamas with a coat over the top, driving to my mother-in-law’s house to use her printer to print my evidence so I could sign it and submit it. I notice that the Prime Minister and his aides at No 10 failed to do the same in the original court case – after all, you have to tell the truth in court. They may have fancy outfits and a life that would make a good TV drama. I’d rather have threadbare PJs and be right than have well-cut suits and snake oil.
The single worst result of prorogation
I am obviously deeply incensed about the closure of parliament and the infringement to my job and my ability to represent my constituents as I was elected to do. All that said, the upside is that I get to sleep in my own bed every night and spend a bit more time with said constituents.
The very first case I saw on my return to Birmingham was that of a woman who is due to be cross-examined in the family court by a man who has beaten and abused her and her children for years. The law we hoped would change this was dropped twice by the Tories, first because of the 2017 election, second because Johnson has shut parliament. I could howl in despair at how we have failed this woman sitting in front of me, scared and unsure what to do.
Dominic Cummings glibly said to a journalist as parliament shut that they should leave London and stop talking to rich Remainers. Well, Mr Cummings, you should do the same: you’d be very welcome in my office in this downtime, there are some people you owe an apology to.
All work and no play
This week I went to the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum in London with my eldest son, who wants to be a film director. His favourite Kubrick is The Shining, so we marvelled at all the original props, including the reams of paper with the famously repeated lines “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. The next day I went to a warehouse in Oxford to sign 3,000 copies of my new book and, by the end of the day, was suffering some of the same psychological effects of such repetition. My family should fear not, however, as my hand is now a permanent claw through repetitive strain: I couldn’t wield a baguette, let alone an axe.
Backchat from the real Hulk
Boris Johnson’s latest dead cat strategy was seemingly to compare himself to the Incredible Hulk, only then to be rebuffed by the man who plays the Hulk, Mark Ruffalo. My son Harry, who from this moment on shall be known as the world’s biggest Marvel fan, read out an article to me about the smackdown from the Hulk actor, where my tweet mentioning my son was also cited. The world’s biggest Marvel fan said to me, “I’m mentioned in the same article as Mark Ruffalo, he might read it – this is the single greatest thing that has ever happened to me.” I’d like to thank the Prime Minister for this, maybe the only thing he will ever do that makes my children’s lives better. Now, if only he would offer to look after them when their school is forced to close early because of cuts. l
Jess Phillips’s “Truth to Power: 7 Ways to Call Time on BS” is published by Monoray
This article appears in the 06 Jan 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Out of control