The SNP adventure arrives in Westminister - but how long before these new MPs go native?

It's like cross between Eliza Doolittle at the races and Five Go to Treasure Island

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The Independent Online

Chips and chumminess

So the SNP has arrived in Westminster, in a rollicking adventure that has been described as like a sort of cross between Eliza Doolittle at the races and Five Go to Treasure Island.

Twenty-year-old Mhairi Black distinguished herself straight away when she made herself a chip butty in the canteen, and then chose to sit with the serving staff instead of in the “MPs only” enclosure. And I’m told that SNP MPs have colonised the friendlier Sports & Social Bar, where Commons staff and researchers hang out, rather than drink in the snooty Strangers’ Bar where only MPs can buy a round.

You’d think that seeing the Commons through newcomers’ eyes would wake the old timers up to the way that Parliament is perceived in the outside world: the subsidised bars; the arguments over the proper vintage of champagne; the stupid rituals; the inflated expenses claims; the silly men in tights … But rather than give themselves a shake and blush at how stuck-up and insular it all is, MPs appear to revel in it. Last week, the privately educated new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale, who joined the Conservative research department straight after graduating, told the London Evening Standard: “I’ve certainly never had a ‘chip butty’ before.” Well, heaven forbid.

Now, it has emerged that since 2010 our elected representatives have accepted £60,000-worth of gifts and hospitality from big tobacco companies, including tickets to the Wimbledon final, the Chelsea Flower Show, test matches at the Oval and the opera at Glyndebourne (none of which serves chip butties, I’d hazard a guess). The Independent carefully reported that “All the hospitality received was recorded in the public Register of Members’ Interests and there is no evidence any MPs discussed tobacco control issues with their hosts”, but do the politicians involved, from several parties, not see how it looks to the people who voted for them? Did they really get a lot achieved for their constituents in between overs?

It’s fun to watch now as the Scots grin for the cameras and chill with the staff, but I wonder how long it will take for them to go native. Five years from now, will the voters outside look from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; and realise that already it is impossible to say which is which?

Whose Calpol is it anyway?

In the world of social media, no sooner does a thing go viral than the backlash begins, and so it proved last week with Calpolgate. It started when a parent shared the information that some pharmacies operate a “minor ailments service”, whereby children can receive free medication such as Calpol (right), plasters, nappy rash cream and treatments for nits. News of these fabulous freebies started to spread, and so too did the counterattack, along the lines of “buy your own bleedin’ Calpol, save the NHS!”

The Minor Ailments Service started as a way to cut GP appointments and provide medication for people who can’t afford it, and like most of the NHS it’s probably a great idea as long as people don’t abuse it. But it’s not just parents who perhaps ought to pay. Recently, I happened to be in a pharmacy with my husband when I signed for “non-chargeable contraceptives”, and he asked me why I didn’t pay for my prescription. “They’re free”, I told him. It’s to make sure that nobody ends up with an unwanted pregnancy because they’re too shy or too skint to take contraception, presumably, but women like me who can afford to pay should surely do so. Of course, buying contraceptives saves a lot of money on Calpol and nappy rash cream down the line.

Equal, but indifferent

I hear that the first meeting of the Women’s Equality Party in Brighton has received a lot of enquiries from men, asking if they are allowed to join in. Great news! Except that most of them, when told “Yes, you’re welcome!”, then respond, “Well I won’t actually be coming. I just wanted to make sure that I could if I wanted to. It’s the principle.”

Oh dear. How disappointed they sound to find out that they’re not the victims of discrimination at last, after all.

Bras can butt out

I’m very worried about this new talking bra from Japan, which takes “uplifting” to a whole new level by giving its wearer supportive messages when she is feeling stressed. It can tell this because her pulse will be raised or her voice will sound nervous, and that prompts the bra to pipe up: “If you give it your best, you’ll be OK! Go for it!” Crikey. Imagine running for a bus or sitting in a job interview when your underwear decides to chip in. And I dread to think what will happen when inevitably we get talking pants equality for men.

Dumb and dumber

As a Thomas Hardy fan married to a Marvel devotee, I feel I must speak up for sci-fi and fantasy enthusiasts who have been repeatedly insulted even by their own.

Simon Pegg (yes, Shaun of the Dead and Star Trek’s Simon Pegg) last week announced that society is being “infantilised” by its taste for science fiction and comics. “It is a kind of dumbing down,” he said. “Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys. Now we’re really not thinking about anything, other than the fact the Hulk (above) just had a fight with a robot.”

Recently, I fell asleep in Avengers: Age of Ultron because the fight scenes are the most tedious thing I have ever experienced, while my husband will sit through Far From the Madding Crowd only if he is promised a car chase or aliens, but I don’t think that makes his films any dumber than mine. In fact, anyone whose idea of escapism is trying to keep up with Marvel plots is obviously far smarter than me. But he’d be smarter still to never try to make me watch Iron Man again.