Chris Bryant: Westminster is up in arms, petulant and splenetic. What will the voters think?

A Political Life


I have never known parliament to reek of acrid fuming quite as much as now. It's not just the whiff of burning rubber as the Government performs another handbrake turn. Peers are angry with MPs for meddling with their futures or dissing their contribution to the general wellbeing of the nation. Labourites are incandescent with the Liberal Democrats for masquerading all the while as sanctimonious lefties and succumbing to the first aroma of chauffeur-driven leather.

Tories, meanwhile, are the angriest of the lot. Some lost the place that was rightfully theirs at the top (or nearly top) table when the Lib Dems waltzed in and stole their Prime Minister. Others snipe at what they see as completely un-conservative policies – wind farms, human rights, gays, Lords reform. They fear the PM might have actually believed all that guff about "detoxifying the brand". The new-intake Tories, many of whom are exceptionally bright (but, so their elders point out, not yet weathered by the storms of pre-Leveson political life), have, in the words of one of them, "gone native" in the search for Have I Got News for You fame. Not for them the hard graft of party discipline.

The upshot is a permanent state of disdainful, venomous, beat your heart out spleneticism. You could see it most obviously in the Libor debate, where the response of the two principals was even less important than the bared-teeth ranting from the backbenches. Yes, Osborne had poisoned the well the day before. But ever since the botched budget the pall of acrid smoke has hung over the Commons like an old-fashioned pea-souper. So when Maria Miller stood up on Tuesday, all granite face and Olay demeanour, to patronise us with a statement about closing 27 Remploy factories, her backbenchers knew what to do – shout us down. And of course we gave as good as we got. Indeed I was furious with her that she couldn't even tell me what is to happen to my e-cycling Remploy factory in Porth. But even the two days of debate over Lords reform were howl-fests.

There are dangers in all of this. Labour can look menacing in its anger, the Lib Dems pious beyond belief. And the Tories, in fighting the yellow peril, paint themselves in a blue so deep they appeal only to their core vote. Even more dangerous is the view the voters take of a parliament fit to burst with petulance. So, I say to myself (above all), let's all calm down.

Axe free parking at your peril

Contrary to rumour, change is pretty constant in the Valleys. On my way home on Wednesday evening I popped, guiltily, into the new Sainsbury's (we've never had one before) on the site of the old Brown Lenox factory. Depressingly, it could have been in any town in any part of Britain. And yesterday I was in the Co-op in Tonypandy, which is about to close. The staff are understandably worried, but one told me their customers are even more worried about the car park closing as it has always been unpatrolled. Every politico knows: don't mess with people's right to park.

Who knew we'd still need mechanics?

Change is not always progress. On Thursday I opened the gleaming new car mechanics training facility at Ferndale Comprehensive School (with a vast pair of garden shears), which will enable youngsters to take the IMI-accredited course that immediately puts them at the front of the queue for work. Great, said I, skills are as important as knowledge. Chatting to one of the teachers, though, I learnt that a similar facility was opened 40 years ago and closed on the advice of some government department that didn't think we would need car mechanics in the future.

Power and passion of Rhondda's toffs

Even tea is tribal in the Commons, which is why I rarely travel down the Tory end of the Members' tearoom, but a Welsh Tory, Robert Buckland, had alerted me to the fact that they now have a portrait of Viscount Rhondda staring down at them. David Alfred Thomas, born 1856, looks avuncular in oils, but in real life he was the aggressively entrepreneurial owner of the Cambrian colliery at Penygraig, where the strike of 1910 led to the famous Tonypandy riots. "DA" managed nevertheless to get elected for Merthyr Tydfil from 1888 to 1910, and was briefly Minister of Food in the First World War.

The far more interesting member of the family, though, was his daughter, who was allowed to inherit the viscountcy in her own right on her father's death. Margaret proved to be a live wire, spending five days on a hunger strike while in prison for trying to blow up a postbox in 1908, attacking Asquith's car during the 1910 election, divorcing her husband so as to live with another suffragette, Helen Archdale, reforming the Women's RAF and founding her own magazine. In 1922 she very nearly persuaded the House of Lords to allow her to take her seat as Viscountess Rhondda, but died just two months before the first women life peers were admitted in 1958.

In 1915 both father and daughter were on the Lusitania when it was torpedoed and sank. Tradition goes that when a Welsh miner was told "DA" was on board he replied, "I'll wait till tomorrow. He always comes out on top, and I promise you this: he will come to the top of the water again with a big fish in each of his hands." Last year there was a brief showing of a portrait of Margaret in the House of Lords, but with the arrival of "DA" in the tearoom it seems he is still on top.

Twitter: @ChrisBryantMP

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

PHP Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: PHP Develope...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Turkish women have been posting defiant selfies of themselves laughing at their deputy PM's remarks.  

Women now have two more reasons to laugh in the face of sexism

Louise Scodie
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star