Boundary changes put on hold and an everyday story of squabbling politicians - aka the Tory Party

Plus: local jobs that can't be saved; imaginary legions of supporters; and the eccentric fashion sense of Jack Straw in his time as Lord High Chancellor

Share

I’ve never read it, seen it or listened to it on the radio, but somehow I know that in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the answer to the ultimate question of life was the number 42, so when the two Labour tellers lined themselves up on the right of the two Tories to read out the result of the boundaries vote on Tuesday afternoon and announced 292 Tory ayes and 334 nos, there was a sense that 42 might be Labour’s magic number and that the 2015 election campaign had started in earnest.

We had defeated the Tories’ attempt to overturn the Lords, and the boundary changes will not happen until 2018.

But hidden in those numbers are some strange facts. Every single Labour MP voted. I know you’d expect that. But with the norovirus and family bereavements, it’s normally pretty difficult to get a 100 per cent turnout even in exceptional circumstances, and when the Labour government lost its vote of confidence in 1979 it was by a single vote. But even Tories are amazed at how united Labour has been since the 2010 election defeat. Previously when we lost, especially in 1931, in 1951 and in 1979, we tore ourselves apart; we invented six impossible things before breakfast; we took our hobby-horses out into the paddock and rode them for all they were worth. But not this time. God knows we’ve a long way to go, but neither ill-discipline nor self-indulgence is our besetting political sin.

Even more astounding, though, was the behaviour of the Tories. Just as they sank Lords reform last autumn without a thought for tomorrow, so on Tuesday they indulged their pent-up fury by sniping at the Lib Dems, and let the future hang for itself. It was a joy to see the self-styled bravehearts who had brandished their conservative claymores so furiously at the very idea of an elected Lords suddenly find themselves hoist by the petard-bearing unelected house, the very people they had fought so hard to defend.

Several disaffected Tories told me they hoped we would win the vote; four voted with us, and as for the newbie equalities minister, Helen Grant, pictured, she managed to vote both for and against allowing the monarch to be a Catholic on Monday and on Tuesday completely failed to turn up. It all feels so fin de régime. Yes, some Tories share a putrid hatred of David Cameron. But, even more importantly, they seem more interested in cherishing their private notions than in presenting a united front. This does not feel like a disciplined party, eager to govern because it has a vision of what it wants to do. (I hope they don’t read this. They might take note. But I suspect this particular patient is too far gone already.)

There’s only so much you can do

Incidentally, you would have to visit my advice surgery only once to understand where our eagerness to govern again comes from. It can be deeply depressing. The desperate tales of families caught in intractable legal cases, in wholly uninhabitable housing or completely unable to find work are enough to make a statue weep.

Just sometimes you can make a difference as an MP. I got a major food company in Ireland to drop its legal case against a local ice-cream manufacturer just by ringing up the chairman. I got an insurance company to drop most of its charges for an elderly couple caught ill in Spain. And the council always responds swiftly to my complaints about rubbish collection, road gritting and potholes. But last week two local solicitors came in, worried about the Government’s slashing of legal aid and changes to the law on personal injury. Thirty local jobs may go. But all I could say was, “Yes, I agree, but unfortunately we’re not the government.”

Quality, not quantity

I’d dearly love to ban MPs from claiming that they have been “inundated with letters and emails”. Not, you understand, because we don’t get lots of correspondence. We do. A cross-section of my inbox could be submitted to the British Museum as a perfect picture of modern marketing techniques. But I’ve always disliked that debating habit of claiming imaginary legions of supporters by starting a speech with either “everybody knows that”, or “my constituents have written to me in their droves”.

Take same-sex marriage. I have not had more than three communications on this from constituents (though I’ve had a constant stream of wild emails from the insane dubiously claiming to be in the name of Jesus). That is not because the people of the Rhondda are indifferent. There are supporters and opponents. But they know my view on the matter and colleagues who have sounded ambivalent have ended up with a far larger postbag. No MP should last long if they were entirely inured to public opinion in their patch, but political antennae must consist of more than counting emails.

How to get the measure of a man

A favourite tearoom pastime on the Labour side involves teasing Jack Straw about his time as Lord High Chancellor, when he seemed to rather enjoy wearing tights, buckled court shoes and elaborate gold-laced robes (£15,000 a set). In fact, he tells me that the post required several different outfits for different Chancery functions. Indeed, very early on, some tailors from Ede & Ravenscroft appeared in his office, as if by magic, with a set of togs that they had miraculously tailored for him without so much as taking a measurement.

He admits he did let the side down on one occasion, though. Having been told that the correct attire for swearing in a new bishop (yes, this does still happen) is a morning suit, he thought he had done as required, but was notified by Sir Humphrey that his grey waistcoat was hideously inappropriate. “Only for weddings and Royal Ascot, Sir,” came the rebuke, as if addressed to a terrible parvenu.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?