Sometimes politics seems really simple. I often get messages saying ‘just say this it would have been sorted’, or ‘if only you’d voted that way this would never have happened’.
But the truth is, politics can be personally really difficult. Why? The best way I can explain is comes down to what votes are called in the Commons: they’re called ‘divisions’.
Voting looks a bit odd in the House. There’s lots of shouting and then you all leap up in order to garage though the ‘aye’ or ‘no’ lobby….a ‘lobby’ is just a posh corridor as it turns out!
But my point is that the Commons literally divides at that point and ever since the first time I did this I’ve always been very aware that our community divides too. Out of the hundreds of votes I’ve taken part in there’s not been one where everyone I represent in parliament would have agreed with me.
So for me this job hasn’t just been about doing what’s right, it’s also been about doing my bit to help us heal after each of those divisions. That means being upfront, openhearted about how I decided to act in a certain way, and then to be available to engage and explain myself.
Right now the decisions are really tough. The divisions in parliament and in communities up and down the United Kingdom are wide, deep, and entrenched. For those MPs who are struggling to marry their love of the community they represent with personal views that may be different, this is a deeply emotional and painful time. The task they have in healing divisions is almost impossibly challenging and it is shatteringly tiring.
And I have a personal reason for writing this too, because I have been championing a ‘compromise’ way through the Brexit nightmare. Many of the people who read this will agree with what I’ve been doing with Phil Wilson MP, if so then please have sympathy with those who are finding their own way through this, particularly those who are on the same journey as us but at a different speed.
I’ve sat with hundreds of MPs in recent weeks to explain, listen, learn, and to try and persuade them of this approach. What I’ve seen is a group that is overwhelmingly engaged and deeply caring for the community they represent. Some have shared with me the threats of violence they receive, infinitely worse for women MPs than men, others the stories of political intimidation from within their own parties. You’d be as shocked as I am at the amount of tears I’ve seen and genuine anguish.
I truly believe our compromise is the best way for our country to get out of this mess, but those benefits will not be appreciated in equal measure in every community. Some MPs have a much greater challenge, so by pushing this forward as energetically as I have it’s important for me to say publicly that I have always known it would cause a lot of consternation and sometimes pain to friends and colleagues that I really care about.
You might say ‘that’s politics, it’s a rough game’. This is true, but we also need a healthy dose of empathy in the way we do politics in a measure we’ve not seen, well, possibly ever before.
If we’re going to get out of the trap we’re caught in whereby the tone of the 2016 referendum haunts our public debate and ends up making our politicians fear public engagement and ballots, well we’re heading to a really dark place.
I’m not going to relent in my total drive and focus on find a sensible, credible, and publicly inclusive way out of the Brexit dead-end. Don’t worry about that. But also, let’s not forget that we’re all human and some community leaders, spokespeople, and politicians local and national have an incredibly hard and wearing challenge.
Most of the MPs I know are totally dedicated to helping you. Sometimes we need to pay a little thought to them too, and never more so then now.