Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you
Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you. If your pay is failing to keep up with inflation, if your burglary isn’t investigated, if your energy bill eats up all your disposable income, that’s politics affecting your life.
On Tuesday, it’s a racing certainty that Liz Truss will be appointed (not elected) Prime Minister. She plans to change the law to compel striking workers to turn up to work. When the state compels people to work against their wishes, it’s called conscription. And if it’s done for private profit, even for just one day, it’s called slavery.
Whether Ms Truss will implement that is a different question. She was a Remainer. Then a zealous Brexiteer. She supported Britons to fight in Ukraine, then she didn’t. She wanted to build on the green belt, now she doesn’t. She said the monarchy should be abolished, now she wants to buy them a new yacht. She announced plans to cut civil servants pay outside of London, and the next day she denied it.
I can do no better than quote Marx: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.” Groucho. Less flippantly, I’ll quote Hannah Arendt, “If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.”
Every time someone says, “politicians are all the same,” the Donald Trumps and Boris Johnsons of this world smile inside.
Last year, against civil service advice, Ms Truss took a US trade delegation to a private Mayfair club owned by Tory donor Robin Birley. She and her guests drank two bottles of dry gin, three £153 bottles of a Spanish white wine and two bottles of red at £130 each, part of a total bill of £3,000 that was put on expenses. On the rare occasions I take someone for a drink to politically lobby them, I pay for it myself. My total expenses claims since being elected are £0. I even pay for my own phone and laptop.
Just weeks after the UK hosted Cop26, Ms Truss chartered a private plane for a trip to Australia. It cost us, the taxpayers, “at least” £500,000, burned 150 tonnes of fuel, causing 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions. She could have got on a scheduled flight.
I have no official transport. If I go to London, I get the train, standard class. When I went on a visit to a construction project we’d funded the hosts told my PA, “We have a parking space for the Mayor’s limousine.” “That’s very kind,” she replied, “but is there anywhere he can chain up his bike?”
On balance I think politicians are the same as everyone else – standards of integrity vary widely. Most politicians I’ve met range from hard working to workaholic.
I’ll work with the new PM, and her new cabinet, as I have with dozens of ministers and Secretaries of State so far. We’ve landed some good results, too. Funding to reopen the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line. Over £100m in new bus funding. £24m to build new homes on brownfield land. £millions in extra funding for skills training in green industries and digital training. And a massive amount of progress on a new devolution deal – to be announced soon, I hope.
If you were a member of the Conservative party, you got to vote on who is the Tory leader. You’d also get a say in who are the MPs who shortlisted them. So if you want Penny Mordaunt to lead the Tories or Andy Burnham to lead Labour, or, erm, one of the other Lib Dems to lead them, join a political party. If you believe in PR, join a party and lobby for it.
You can be in a political party and still campaign in other ways. On Thursday I’m speaking at the People’s Assembly at Newcastle Arts Centre on the cost of living crisis.
Politics will affect you. It’s a fact. Shouting at the telly will achieve precisely nothing. So you have a choice. Will you affect politics, or get what you’re given?
*Originally printed in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 5 Sept 2022