A Political Life: All of these Westminster squabbles mean nothing to the average voter

The truth is that whatever's said between the abbey and the river, all of this is just heard as a very distant rumble out in the country

Chris Bryant
Friday 05 July 2013 19:47

Apart from votes on Monday and Tuesday and a brief foray on Monday, when I took a pop at the disability minister Esther McVey, I have hardly been in the Commons this week.

There have been plenty of other meetings, but on Wednesday I visited the town that has seen the largest growth in migrant labour in Britain, Boston in Lincolnshire; on Thursday I was at the port of Southampton looking at customs issues, and on Friday I was aggressively at large in the Rhondda.

I’m guessing that febrile Tories will be getting in a lather about the events of this week, though. They’ll be thinking that the selection row in Falkirk and the tiff with Unite will deliver them electoral victory. They are doubtless congratulating themselves, too, on their preposterous Friday stunt when half the Cabinet and the whole of the Tory party gathered, donned their swivel-eyed loon masks and banged on about Europe (this despite the fact that the Bill has no chance of becoming law, would not bring about a referendum in 2017 if it did and would suspend a sword of Damocletian uncertainty over the UK economy for four years.

But the truth is that whatever the decibel level in that tiny sliver of land between the abbey and the river, all of this is just heard as a very distant rumble out in the country. That’s not to diminish the issues. Our relationship with Europe does matter, and our electoral system’s tendency to create historically “safe” seats for the two main parties means that selection contests are often fought viciously among fewer than 100 active members. Reform, maybe even open primaries, is vital.

But let me break it to you. Even Prime Minister’s Questions is a complete irrelevance. It has next to no cut-through to the ordinary voter, for whom the whole rant-athon would be a profound turn off if they ever bothered to watch it. Yet the two protagonists devote hours to preparation and it’s the only moment of the week when the whole of the political tribe gathers – MPs, apparatchiks, hacks, political anoraks.

What does matter? Clinton thought it was “the economy, stupid”. I reckon it’s living standards. What you can afford, what you used to be able to afford, what you’d like to be able to afford.

Phone hacking Hollywood style

Tom Watson and I have known each other for 21 years. We’ve not always got on and I have friends who admire, rely on, love, hate and resent him. Such is politics. But let me put some things straight. He is deeply self-reflective. He believes in things and fights for them. He’s not a good person to have as an enemy. Without Tom’s courage, organisational flair and late-night fretting, Rupert Murdoch would have got away with the greatest corporate scandal in centuries. For that alone he deserves a knighthood.

It’s true there is talk of a phone-hacking movie and Tom and I have both joked that, knowing Hollywood, either we will be combined into one character or I (if I’m in it at all) will be turned into a woman who is having an affair with Tom. We’re not sure who is more troubled by this.

Out of the mouths of babes...

Thursday night saw a special gala performance at the Theatro Technis near St Pancras of nine short plays written by children from local primary schools and performed by professional actors under the aegis of the amazing charity Scene and Heard. Gala, because the audience included Hugh Bonneville, Michael Sheen, Sam West and Tom Goodman-Hill, and the charity, which survives on the phenomenal generosity of the artists who give their time for free, is in need of cash.

The plays were remarkable. More surreal than Dali and Ionesco, far funnier than Fawlty Towers and more touching than EastEnders, the genius of childhood shone through. We had a very deadpan willopotamos, half willow tree and half hippopotamus and was bored of running a bar in the jungle. One character was the old clothes of Princess Diana, below, who clamoured to be set free from the drawer in which she languished, hoping to be worn by Kate Middleton as nobody ever told her how appallingly she dressed.

There were some home truths. One character complained: “I want to be brilliant at everything, without having to learn the skills.”

My favourite line came from the Loch Ness Squid, who plaintively moaned that she never saw her dad, the Loch Ness Monster – (pause) “but then nobody ever sees him”.

All the playwrights live in one of the toughest wards in London. Several are second-generation immigrants. All of them stood taller when they took their bow. That’s real education.

Wrong question, wrong answer

Douglas Alexander told a story at the annual Labour Friends of Israel lunch (yes, you can be a friend of Israel and still criticise the Israeli government) about his father, who is a Church of Scotland minister. He was conducting a marriage and suddenly realised halfway through the opening hymn and welcoming sentences that he had forgotten the names of the couple. But as the hymn ended he came up with a plan, so he turned to the groom and pronounced, in as solemn a voice as possible: “In what name do you present yourself?” The ruse was to no avail. The groom, well versed in liturgy, proudly declared: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”

This is rather similar to events in Iain Davidson’s local party, where a meeting was getting a little heated and everyone was so sceptical about what one of the women was saying that one member piped up: “The lady doth protest too loud.” To which the chairman responded: “Well, she has too, otherwise nobody will hear her at the back.”

Twitter: @ChrisBryantMP

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