House Music, By Oona King

A life in ribbons
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The Independent Culture

What happens when a 29-year-old black Jewish girl, raised by a single mum, becomes an MP? House Music is the surreal and sad answer to this question. Great political diarists of the past have written wry observations from the side of the chamber, like Alan Clark, or blunt accounts from inside government, like Barbara Castle. Oona King offers something new: the political diary as chick-lit confessional, a tour of the diarist's ovaries and anxieties as she runs from one constituency surgery to another. Private Members' Bills alternate with unpaid phone bills; the IMF follows her IVF.

It begins with a judder of optimism. During her first week, she walks into the House of Commons in wonder. She explains: "Three male Tories walk in... They eye me suspiciously. They're in two minds about calling security. And then they catch sight of my Member's pass. They look at me like I've gate-crashed their private member's club."

But she picks through the archaic absurdities of Westminster with a wry smile. In 1997, she notes: "One new MP was impressed to find that each MP's coat hanger had a pink ribbon attached – presumably to highlight Aids or breast cancer awareness – only to discover that these ribbons were for us to hang our swords on."

She finds some compensations. She fights for a Bill to help contract cleaners. She wades through the misery of her East End constituency, the poorest in Britain. (Full disclosure: as a constituent, I met and became friendly with her at this time). She sets up an Anti-Genocide Select Committee, and becomes one of the few politicians to yell about the horrific slaughter in Congo – the deadliest war since Hitler marched across Europe.

She begins to learn that speaking plainly and honestly can mean career-death. One day, she is waiting in a supermarket queue in a crop-top and a belly-button ring. A woman recognises her, and asks if she is allowed to dress like that as an MP. "Oh, well I'm just going out dancing," she explains. "Obviously when I go to the mosque tomorrow, and then for meetings in Whitehall, I dress differently." Two days later, the headline in a national newspaper reads: "MP Oona's secret double life," detailing how she "mocks" her Muslim constituents.

But it is King's refusal to shut down her conscience that sees her frozen out. She is ordered by Alastair Campbell to write a piece attacking Ken Livingstone. When she refuses, he tells her with a smile that her career is over for five years – and it is. Although she supports much of the government programme, her cavils about the war in Afghanistan, detention without trial and the abuse of asylum seekers mean she is seen as "unreliable".

While all this unfolds, so does her marriage – to a tall, lean Italian hunk. She is trapped at Westminster, "a posh boarding school with crap food". She details how her marriage fissures and fails with a biting honesty, even detailing how her husband snaps: "You're a politician. I don't believe a word that comes out of your mouth." They try to have a baby, only to deliver a "pregnancy sac", "like an egg without a yoke", she notes tearfully. She begins to wonder if she should resign.

And then comes the career-killer. "I went into Parliament a human rights activist and trade unionist, and came out labelled a warmonger and murderer. Where did I go wrong?" She voted against bombing Iraq in 1998, then saw hundreds of Iraqi asylum seekers in her constituency and wondered: "Just because George Bush got away with murder, why should Saddam Hussein get away with genocide?" So she voted for the invasion – and signed her political death warrant.

Today, she says that if she had anticipated the "incompetence, corruption, ignorance and sheer stupidity" of Bush's occupation, "I would never have voted to invade Iraq". It was too late. George Galloway sharked into the constituency, declaring that King "wants to wage war on Muslims at home and abroad." He announced that "Oona King is in the papers every day with stories of affairs." On the street, people began to yell, "Go home, Jewish bitch". Her seat – and an unborn baby – slipped away.

She writes: "My second biggest fear was of losing my seat... My biggest was winning it." Away from Westminster, she regains her life, sanity and marriage. She realises that the hours and lifestyle we demand from our politicians have a disastrous effect on the country: we are governed by freaks.

If our political system cannot accommodate King – a plain-speaking young politician who ordinary people can speak to – it is broken. The only comfort to be sucked from this story is that we have one of the most fresh and authentic political books in years.

Bloomsbury £12.99 (373pp) £11.69 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

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