The last farewell
My mother-in-law died very suddenly of a heart attack a month ago. As I stood up to read her eulogy I realised that it is much harder to face the grief-stricken than your political opponents. If the faces looking back at me in the Commons were a little more heartbroken by recent events, perhaps the country would be in a better position. Instead every home in my constituency, and every person in this congregation, is worrying about their bills.
My husband’s family came from all over the country – and the world – to say their last farewell to one of the best women I will ever know, one taken too soon. It is always lovely to chat, drink and be merry with rarely seen family. As you might imagine, they wanted to talk about partygate and the Prime Minister.
Over the course of this same weekend, Jacob Rees-Mogg told GB News only “socialists” are upset about Boris Johnson’s parties and his lies. It will come as a great surprise to my husband’s family from Plymouth – who are all Tory-voting care workers and marines, and who told me they would never vote for Johnson again after he “made fools” of them – that they are in fact sleeper-cell socialists. Mind you, “power to the people” does sound lovely in their West Country accents.
Parliamentary double standards
The weekend was strange for my family. The day after the funeral is always odd: the first of the rest of your lives, somehow momentous and quietly mundane all at once. But as we lay under blankets on Saturday night, watching trashy telly and licking our wounds, the headlines rolled in, reminding me that, in fact, some things never bloody change.
Two stories appeared about the latest goings on at Westminster. One was a ridiculous, sexist piece of nonsense claiming that Angela Rayner was “flashing” the Prime Minister at PMQs in order to put him off his game. The other detailed how 56 sitting MPs face allegations of sexual harassment or abuse. The second story cannot exist without the first.
Westminster is a sexist place, where women are held to different standards than their male counterparts, and it is perfectly normal to write about their bodies, clothes and, in a new low, leg-crossing. The women of Westminster are still considered a lesser life form, and it is for this exact reason that even after years of changes and campaigning so many are still coming forward to say they have been abused at work. If women truly had all this sexual power to influence politics, we might have used our hypnotic knickers to solve the pay gap or end domestic abuse. Alas, no such power actually exists – it is just a lie told to excuse men of their own bad behaviour. Like I said: nothing really changes.
I have Covid. My week in Westminster was brought to an end by two lines on a lateral flow test. It’s not my first time: I had it before Christmas last year – or so my PCR told me, because I had no symptoms and was rather superior about it. Not this time. I feel breathless and weak, and I cannot stay awake for more than a few hours. I feel it is a punishment for my prior smugness.
I worry that another kind of smugness, on a national scale, means that cases like mine are no longer causing much concern. My kids are off school again: every time this happens, it sets them back. We are not yet through this pandemic, and to address the knock-on effects on our kids, our services and our economy, we need careful planning and thoughtful leadership. Instead we have sloganising and bluster. I may use my time off work to manufacture a simple spit-test that can identify cavalier chancers before they take office.
Loophole of luxury
It may be because I am puerile, but every time I hear anyone say “non-dom” I hear “condom”. I have decided this is a better term, as it seems to me (and all the people in my constituency born elsewhere, or with parents born elsewhere) that non-domiciled status is a bit of a con. It certainly allows some people to hold on to more of their earnings, while the rest of us duly pay all our taxes on ours. As I lay in my sickbed, I was pleased to see the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, on the news, saying that Labour would end this loophole that allows the super-rich and cabinet ministers to pay a lower proportion of tax than some of my constituents born in India, or with parents born in Pakistan.
As we head towards a new session of parliament, the question, “Are you better off after 12 years of Tory rule?” should ring around the country. If you are a non-dom cabinet minister then the answer is probably yes. For everyone else – not so much.
[See also: How many non-doms are there in the UK?]
Jess Phillips is the MP (Labour) for Birmingham Yardley. Her book “The Life of an MP” (Gallery) is out in paperback
This article appears in the 27 Apr 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Sturgeon's Nuclear Dilemma