I’ve often thought that there should be a flow-diagram issued to all new MPs to assist them in predicting how the press and the public will criticise them with respect to any given circumstance.
You’re not in the Chamber? So you’re probably loafing around the subsidised Commons bars chatting up interns. You are in the Chamber? Huh, alright for some. You should be in your constituency listening and helping with the concerns of ordinary people. You are in your constituency? But the House is sitting, and you should be there representing my views. You’re in your office in the Commons doing casework you say? Whatever. You’re actually probably half-way through a Borgen marathon. Tweeting your thoughts on the economy at 9am on a Saturday morning? Get a life, loser! Out with the kids at 9am on Saturday morning? Typical. We pay these chumps to run the country, not gallivant around having a good time. There is an economic crisis on you know.
My particular favourite relates to a piece written a couple of years ago by Labour’s Graham Allen MP. If I recall, he was talking about his commitment to the principle of “early intervention” in assisting parents to give their children the best start in life. It was non-partisan, balanced and frankly, rather a good idea. Nothing to criticise there you think? Think again. One of the first commentators advised him that if he felt that strongly about the issue he should resign as an MP and do “something useful” like become a social worker. Sod the principle of credit where it’s due; that’s not the game you’re in if you’re in politics.
Poor old Graham was merely a poignant example of a fact of life – and I use the term “life” advisedly – in Westminster: you just can’t win against faux outrage deployed by the media at your every move, none of whom would ever dream of taking five minutes off their dogged commitment to upholding the best traditions of the fourth estate.
The revelation that Cameron spends a couple of hours with his missus over the weekend has precipitated a bout of appalled derision from the press and shadow chancellor Ed Balls who, while acknowledging that politicians should be given time off to go to the toilet semi-occasionally, snuck a crafty one through the net by following it up with “But I often feel he’s not on top of the issues.”
I think we can all take something from Ken Clarke’s exhortation that we all “chillax” about this. For one thing politics, even at my lowly level, is like bailing out the Titanic with an egg-spoon. If nobody took any time off until we were all “on top of the issues” and can sign off with “job done”, the House of Commons would contain six-hundred odd bleary eyed psychopaths with skin the colour of tippex, smacked up to their eyeballs on coffee and doing Jack Nicholson in The Shining impressions every time they open the door on their terrified staff. Not the kind of people you want getting a bit out of control around the nuclear button.
Another reason why I, for one, am fully in support of Cameron taking time off every so often to rejoin the human race is that there is a sub-species of MPs around here for whom politics is everything. You can identify them easily: shark-like, constantly scheming, and rather terrifying. These are the sort of people for whom the weekend and the family gets in the way of further plotting and, although I don’t scare easily, I give this group a wide birth. Every so often their little plots make their way into the media, and give politics as a profession an even worse name, and following the expenses scandal I’m not clear that this is what we need.
Finally, seeing as you’re going to be criticised whatever you do, why get worked up about it? You may as well get upset at the turning of the tide as letting inevitable media bitching get to you. Because pretending that all politicians are different from us – that they are Parliamentary King Canutes that could stop the sea if only they worked a bit harder – is a load of disingenuous old cobblers, just as William Hague claiming if us Muggles had done similarly, then we would be out of the economic crisis by now.
Good luck to Cameron and his date nights, say I, and may other MPs follow his example and get a life outside of this place. Lord knows, some of them need it.