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11 January 2023

Jess Phillips’s Diary: Building up to power, Rishi Sunak’s healthcare, and why I would decree beards for all men

After months of turmoil the return to Westminster feels a bit muted – but back I go, well, as soon as I find my pass.

By Jess Phillips

“Has anyone taken my security pass?” I shout as I turn my house upside down, trying to find the one thing I need to return to work in Westminster. As if my children would have taken a pass for a place they largely view with a total lack of interest. For some reason, on the last day before any parliamentary recess I always seem to be wearing a coat or jacket that I never normally wear, and leave my pass in its pocket. The search continues.

The return to Westminster seems a bit muted. I guess the previous six months of politics have been so fraught that if every morning we are not reading someone’s heartfelt resignation or watching the pound collapse in the corner of the screen on breakfast telly it seems as if very little is going on. It is a weird moment because, even though the political tsunamis have passed, it feels as if 2023 is going to be a big and important political year. Greater waves at Westminster and beyond are swelling.

I don’t know how to behave in such a changeable environment. Before, I knew that my job in opposition was to try to do the best I could to clean up messes, and make marginal differences. Now, I sense there is a chance to be more ambitious and to stop the messes happening in the first place. So, I head back to London ready to move from being a cleaner to being a builder. It’s a different job and I look forward to it. That is, if I can find my bloody pass.

A home of one’s own

I have been helping my sister-in-law. She is having to move house because she was living in a block of flats up many flights of stairs. She has stage-four metastasised breast cancer in her spine and her mobility cannot be guaranteed. Moving house always seems like an exciting prospect until you are actually doing it. My sister-in-law says to me without any sense of foreboding, “I’m never moving again!”

I could rail about the times her diagnosis was missed, about how pathways in our health service are in places so cracked that for some they are broken, but I think that’s the story we all know of late. Shifting boxes and dropping bed frames on my feet made me think how insecure it is for the very many people who don’t have a home of their own or a suitable secure tenancy that meets their needs. The anticipation of a new house and what you might do in it is meaningless if you don’t know how long you can stay. You don’t need to have a terminal illness to be worried about where you and your family might be in a few years’ – or even months’ – time.

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There is so much to be anxious about, but we just dig out the kettle, roll our eyes at my brother for losing a vital screw for a flat-pack bed, and make plans for the dinners we will eat once she has some dining chairs.

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Hirsute Harry

I am a fan of beards. My husband is mainly beard. So I was amused to hear that beards may be too much for a royal occasion to handle. According to Prince Harry in his now daily revelations, the red-headed prince had to ask the Queen permission to keep his beard for his wedding. She obliged. I would like that power; I would decree beards for all.

My husband will not tolerate any conversation about the Harry and Meghan saga, even now it includes his very firmly bearded identity. If I even start to broach having an opinion on the current royal drama, he barks that we shouldn’t care and it should all be ignored. He genuinely knows nothing about it at all, and is now actively practising the art of ignorance – as I do with how to programme the oven or who is in the Premier League. My husband seems all the happier for it, and I can’t help but think that if Harry himself took my husband’s line on more than just beards, he might be happier too.

Staying private

I have been to my GP’s, where I was told that I can only have a smear test on a Tuesday – which isn’t great, given that I don’t live in Birmingham on a Tuesday. My smear will have to wait. I realise this is an overshare, not one I would demand or expect from anyone else. My oversharing is my choice. It is not, however, an overshare to say that I use an NHS GP. The Prime Minister disagrees: he thinks it is too personal to say whether or not he uses a private GP, as if we were asking him for his latest blood test results. For more reasons than one, I imagine Rishi Sunak never worries that he can only get a smear test on a Tuesday.

[See also: Rishi Sunak is trying to split Labour with anti-strike legislation]

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This article appears in the 11 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Burning down the House of Windsor