I know at times like this you expect me to stand up and give voice to our community, to make sure our values are represented. That’s what I’ve been trying my best to do locally and in parliament, plus the media too.
There’s loads I want to tell you about that I’ve been up to locally but I’ll save them for the coming days. Right now I think you want to hear from me about the seismic events of recent days.
Few people expected the Supreme Court to be so forthright in their judgement, nor for it to be unanimous. But it was. All 11 judges, the highest in our land, decided two things:
Firstly that it was the legitimate duty of the courts to have a view on parliament’s prorogation – that’s the time parliament is shut down in the run-up to a Queen’s Speech. This happens simply so parliament can reset for a few days, clear all the old bills and paperwork from the system and prepare for the next. But in that time nothing can happen, that’s why it always occurs in a stable or non-contentious period.
The judges said that government weren’t able to answer a simple question: if courts don’t have a say, what is to stop a prorogation being called for a month, a year, or five years? That would in effect kill our democracy and nothing could stop it if the courts weren’t able to have a say.
Secondly, they ruled that this prorogation was so long because government wanted to avoid the scrutiny of parliament. Government could not say why they needed five weeks to prepare for a Queen’s Speech so they ruled that ‘any reasonable person’ would presume it was to silence parliament.
We have not seen anything like this in our country for hundreds of years. It means that government acted unlawfully, they misled the Queen and worst of all they misled you. That’s not my opinion: after this judgement it is fact.
I arrived at parliament knowing it would be a difficult session, but I never expected quite how bad it would become.
You have to understand that in the Commons there are microphones everywhere but the second someone is called to speak every microphone is shut down except the one by the MP on their feet. It means you only hear about 5% of what is happening when you’re watching on tv.
By the time Boris Johnson got to his feet MPs were already upset. The attorney general had been at the dispatch box. He was the man who provided the government, the queen, and our nation with legal advice saying prorogation was legal. It wasn’t. You’d have thought under the circumstances that a little contrition would have been in order. After all, in any other workplace in the land if you’d got something so spectacularly wrong you’d be fearing the worst and hoping for at least a way to keep your job, so you’d do everything possible to be contrite. Not this man.
Geoffrey Cox got to his feet and hurled abuse at MPs. He called us a ‘dead parliament’, he said we didn’t have the moral right to be sitting on the green benches. He shouted, he jabbed his finger and he sneered.
It might be worth pointing out an obvious fact – you elected us in 2017 for a five year period, a bit odd to say we don’t have the right to be there, especially from the man who’s just been slammed by the Supreme Court!
And far from being dead, what really upsets them is that parliament is alive and well and doing its constitutional job. The only reason government can’t get business through is because of their own stupidity and the fact they kicked out 21 of their own MPs which means they don’t have a majority anymore. None of this is your fault, nor my fault. It’s infuriating that they won’t take responsibilities for their actions.
And then Boris Johnson appeared. He immediately started using words that are associated with wartime treachery, pointing at people while he did it. People immediately started to beg him to change the tone, to use different words.
And this is the key thing, because as soon as he knew which words were upsetting people the most he started to use them again and again and again, more and more, getting louder and more personal.
Very few MPs have not experienced some form of abuse. There are half a dozen people in prison right now because of it. I have never spoken about it publicly simply because I meet people every week who suffer much worse, such as domestic abuse victims, and I’m very aware that I have a privileged position and a regular conversation with the police about my safety. I have the mobile numbers of several senior officers, so I would never compare my position with people living with those overwhelming challenges.
In politics, as so often elsewhere, women and minorities suffer first and worst. So when Paula Sheriff MP spoke from the heart and begged him to stop using language that could incite hate and target MPs, the prime minister said she was talking ‘humbug’. When Tracy Brabin, the MP who replaced Jo Cox in Batley and Spen said that words matter and the language he was using was too similar to that used in the environment leading up to Jo’s murder, he said the ‘best way to honour Jo was to get Brexit done’. And in reply to my question which pointed out he enjoyed the constant protection of armed police and is not as vulnerable as those he was targeting, he said ‘the best way to ensure that every parliamentarian is safe is to get Brexit done’.
In other words, we have a prime minister who says that the only way MPs can avoid danger is to back his policies. How un-British can you get?
I realise it might all look the same from tv, but I promise you that there was very genuine distress in that chamber. MPs who have abusers in prison and others on restraining orders were shaken. Just behind the chamber in the voting lobby several were in tears as they left. I really do understand how this could be perceived from the outside, as if MPs are being too delicate or overreacting, but MPs are human too (some more than others admittedly!). Those who have woken up to find abusive graffiti on the front of their home or death threats posted through their door know what will be waiting for them thanks to Boris Johnson.
That’s why things got so emotional last night.
Hopefully you’ll know from the way I try to engage with people of different views on my facebook and twitter pages that I aspire to be respectful even though I sometimes fail. But at least I try. We now have a prime minister that uses gaslighting as a political tool and believe me our whole country will pay the price, not just MPs.
Predictably, today a man was arrested for attacking a female MP’s office. Words matter, they really do.
The other question I asked him was why he was the only interested party in the Supreme Court case that didn’t submit a sworn statement. All the others did. This was mentioned by the judges, he was asked to provide one but he didn’t. Boris Johnson refused to answer my question but he didn’t need to, we know why he didn’t. If he had submitted a sworn statement saying prorogation was simply to prepare for a queens speech and not to stymie debate and scrutiny then he would have perjured himself.
Finally, if you’re still reading, I’d like to share a personal story where I learned a big political lesson. I think it’s relevant.
Running up to the 2015 general election we had a series of public hustings. They’re always really difficult because it’s hard to form a relationship with an audience when you have loads of other people taking pot-shots, but they had all been respectful. But then, presumably when it became obvious I was winning, one of the candidates changed strategy.
At a hustings in Hove Park School, the other candidate made a point of sitting next to me. Every time I spoke he interrupted me. Several times he jabbed his finger very close to my face. Always before I’d resisted the temptation to respond but this time I did, I was really annoyed. So rather than looking forward to the audience I turned to him and had a go back and several times we got into a to-and-fro about something that was probably irrelevant anyway.
When I got into the car afterwards I put my head in my hands. My campaign manager said ‘what’s the matter, I think you won’, but that wasn’t the problem. I felt real shame that I had let the audience down. I actually felt we had all let the audience down. I wasn’t responsible for the others but I was for me. It was the only night of a two-year campaign I couldn’t get to sleep, I knew in my heart that the audience looked at us and thought to themselves ‘they’re all the same’, and for that moment at least we were.
This moment left a deep impression on me. It has stayed with me and when I go into an adversarial situation I can feel it welling up. Sometimes I still get it wrong, you might have seen those moments on TV, but I can say with my hand on heart that I do try.
Whatever happens to me going forward at least I’ll always know that I aspired to be a respectful, unifying politician. Boris Johnson may have become prime minister and guaranteed his place in history, but when he looks back at his career he will never be able to say the same. Out of the two situations I know which I’d rather – and I know which you deserve.