Wednesday night brought the annual Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards. I always find these kinds of events a bit uncomfortable but this one was even more excruciating than usual. Brutal doesn’t even come close to describing the personal animosity over Brexit within the Conservative Party, which was on full display at the awards ceremony.
George Osborne led the proceedings. He had to present awards to Iain Duncan Smith, whom he tried to get sacked; to Theresa May, who sacked him; and to Boris Johnson, who only campaigned for Brexit to further his own career, was knifed by George’s ex-bestie Michael Gove, and yet still ended up as Foreign Secretary.
The Prime Minister won plaudits for receiving her Politician of the Year award dressed in a high-vis jacket and hard hat, Osborne’s attire of choice when he was chancellor. But she provoked gasps when she said she knew how David Cameron’s press secretary Craig Oliver must have felt when he retched after the Brexit result, because that’s what she did when she saw his name on the former PM’s final honours list – all as Oliver sat just metres away. Labour should be making mincemeat out of the Tories’ divisions and their disarray over Brexit.
Holding out for a leader
At least there were cheers for Labour’s Jess Phillips, who won Backbencher of the Year, a standing ovation for Hilary Benn, who won Parliamentarian of the Year for his speech in the Syria debate, and huge warmth for Alf Dubs as Peer of the Year for his work on child refugees.
I shed a tear when Rachel Reeves won Speech of the Year for her tribute to Jo Cox. I still can’t believe Jo is dead. Her insistence that we have more in common than that which divides us has been ringing in my ears even more loudly since the EU referendum vote. I know she would have been horrified at the new level of hatred and abuse, which shows no sign of abating. I campaigned passionately to stay in the EU, and am disgusted by the attacks on anyone who seeks to scrutinise the government’s plans. I understand those who believe that someone needs to stand up for the 48 per cent of people who voted Remain. But what we now need is leadership that tries to bring the country together. Theresa May has so far failed to provide this, even within her own party, which makes me fear for the future.
Earlier in the day, I’d been at the Department of Health for a meeting about the future of Glenfield Hospital’s children’s heart surgery unit, in my Leicester constituency. Along with the health minister Philip Dunne, I was joined by my good friend and parliamentary neighbour Jon Ashworth and by the Conservative MP Nicky Morgan.
I fought Nicky over education policy when she was the secretary of state, and campaigned for the Labour candidate in her Loughborough seat in the general election last year. Moments before our meeting, Philip and Jon had been slugging it out in the House of Commons during an opposition-day debate on the government’s cuts to community pharmacies. Now we were all sitting down to discuss the future of a vital service in the East Midlands. Sometimes you have to work with your political opponents to get the best for your constituents, however strange it may seem.
A judgement call
On Thursday morning the high court ruled that the government cannot begin the process of leaving the EU and triggering Article 50 without giving parliament a say. All hell was unleashed by the tabloids and other hardline Brexiteers, who have conveniently forgotten that one of their main arguments for leaving the EU was a desire for greater parliamentary sovereignty.
The threats to the campaigner Gina Miller, who took the case to the high court, and the abuse of our independent judiciary, are the antithesis of the true British values of tolerance, freedom of speech and respect for the rule of law. Ministers’ abject failure to make this point is at best cowardly, and at worst a total abdication of their responsibilities.
Show me the receipts
Later that afternoon I led a backbench debate about the impact of Brexit on financial and related professional services. MPs from all sides argued that strong and effectively regulated financial services are vital for our economy. They account for almost 12 per cent of our gross domestic product, employ two million people – two-thirds of whom work outside London – and contribute £66bn a year in tax revenues, which is crucial for funding our public services.
Under pressure from MPs, the Treasury minister Simon Kirby said that the trade minister Mark Garnier was wrong to claim that financial services will lose their “passporting” rights when we leave the EU, and that these are still central to the government’s negotiation strategy. It is only by scrutinising the Brexit plans that we will get answers to the questions businesses and workers are asking. Anyone who thinks MPs should be mute about the biggest issue this country has faced since the Second World War have got another thing coming.
In the past week two MPs have asked me to run the London Marathon. I’m resisting, because I don’t need to become any more obsessed with running than I already am. I run ten kilometres four or five times a week, along the Thames when I’m in London and on the Great Central Way when I’m in Leicester. It’s a great way to start the day and really helps clear my mind. But my knees are knackered: I can hear them click when I go up and down the stairs. It’s hard to change your habits, especially at my age, and I’m never going to be the yoga type. Yet perhaps it’s time to admit that sometimes you have to listen and change what you do, even if it’s difficult – in politics, as well as exercise.
Liz Kendall is the MP for Leicester West (Labour)
This article appears in the 10 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump apocalypse