Across the political spectrum there are several MPs who demonstrate a clear willingness to stand up to their party on behalf of the wider community when the policies or ideologies of the party conflict with the needs of society. Such people deserve enormous respect even if we disagree with their party allegiance. One of these people is the Conservative MP for Totnes, Sarah Wollaston. In the last few days Sarah has spoken out about attacks on her constituency office during the last election. She said “I do feel Jeremy Corbyn has got to stop just talking about a kinder politics and make sure that is a message that gets through to some of his members on the far left and likewise for other parties too,” My initial reaction when I heard the news report on this matter was one of surprise as I would not have thought that anyone with links to a reputable political party would have connections to the masked thug who sprayed graffiti inside her office. However that attack resonates with the story of a brick being thrown at the Wallasey office of Angela Eagle during the Labour leadership contest last year. When I googled the incident on Angela Eagle’s office I came across a report of a similar attack last year on the office of Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield. In considering such incidents the murder of Jo Cox also comes to mind. All four of those MPs are people who I would be proud to have as my MP based on what I have heard them say in public. The challenge is how do we ensure that our MPs, male as well as female are protected from such attacks? My view is that we need to find ways of making political decisions making far more accessible to the lives of ordinary people, yet such actions push in the opposite direction. I recall attending the launch of an organisation in the House of Commons in 2013. One of the speakers at the event was Stephen Timms who himself has physical as well as no doubt mental wounds from an attack in his constituency office in 2010. The meeting took place on 5th November and when I left the highly secure Palace of Westminster there was a huge crowd of people outside, many wearing Guy Fawkes masks, wanting to remind the MPs of events that had occurred over 400 years earlier. Whilst that crowd seemed in good humour, it is not hard to imagine how retreating from the wider public must be a temptation for MPs whose electoral majority means they have a job for life. I know of a number of Sussex MPs who are in such a position who refuse to hold surgeries and ignore correspondence from people they should listen to. Identifying the cause and effect in such cases is not easy. We are clearly in a spiral that we need to break society free from. However it is easy to think such a thought, much harder to make it a reality and put the thought into action. During every election as I travel to work I pass large political hoardings in fields Sussex. Whenever one of them becomes defaced part of me cheers, but perhaps that is part of the problem, or is it part of the solution?
On Thursday the last edition of Question Time before the Summer break included Caroline Lucas who debated with Jacob Rees-Mogg. She pointed out to him the inconsistency between his encouragement to students to amass personal debt as a result of their studies and his parties apparent obsession with reducing the national debt, as a reason for not increasing the pay of public sector workers. He argued that it was unreasonable for taxpayers on relatively low wages who might never have the chance or interest in attending Higher Education courses to be expected to support students at University. The fact that these same workers are obliged to see some of their taxes used to award a pay rise to people like him and Caroline seemed to have got ignored in his analysis of what is fair and proper in society. Jacob’s view that carrying debt for the next 30 years was not a heavy burden to carry, shows how out of touch his views are with many people including some in the audience who spoke during the programme. The fact that outside of politics where he earns £74,000 as an MP, that he works one day a week for £170,000 in a business that trades on sums of money such as the buying and selling of the student loan company is indicative of how ill-suited Jacob is to make such statements.