When it comes to MPs, the public are never pleased. First they whinge and whine that their elected representatives don’t have anything in common with real people. “I bet you pour your milk from a gold tureen serenaded by Elton John” they froth as they lob empty lager cans at Question Time. Then MPs, simple trusting fools that they are, take them at their word. They go out, get drunk, head butt a work colleague, break a window, tussle with a police man, spend a night in the clink and are we grateful? Do we nod respectfully at the television, turn to our friends and say “Now there is a man that understands my needs”. No, no we don’t because we are the public and we are scum.
The press have trilled with the news that MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce has been suspended from The Labour Party and is facing charges of three counts of common assault after an incident allegedly involving Conservative MP Stuart Andrew in the “Strangers Bar”. The scene of the fracas is one of several subsidised affairs hidden away in The Palace of Westminster. A social area for MPs without a Dimbleby number on speed dial, it is a place to while away the tedious hours between meetings and Commons votes and not the sort of place you’re likely to find George Osborne propping up the bar or David Milliband complaining that the pool table owes him 50p.
Why this new Puritanism? We used to enjoy tales of “MPs behaving badly”, Alan Clarke tooting about in his little car seducing secretaries, Winston Churchill fighting most of World War Two sozzeled, Margaret Thatcher running the country borderline unhinged. We saw it for what it was, adding to the gaiety of the nation. Then John Major’s government came along, took it too far and ruined it. Tales of MPs with oranges in mouths, suburban dominatrix, David Mellordalliancing, vodka bottles, half eaten kebabs and a dead prostitute, the public staggered away repulsed, humbled and promised no more.
Instead of being discouraged, I think drunkenness should be mandatory for politicians, after all in vino veritas. Party conferences, where policy is decided, is one toga party away from being “Animal House” most years and that seems to work quite well. What better way to ensure that they’re speaking the truth than to make sure it’s a struggle to even remember their own name? Drunk MPs would make Prime Minsters Questions the most popular programme on television descending even more into the over emotional orgy of accusation, hysteria and muttered threats than it is already.
The Speaker always looks like he’s on the verge on wandering in a dressing gown and large tumbler of gin already so why not just let him? It could be followed by PMQs Extra in the car park afterwards, shown on the red button, where any unresolved issues are settled, bare-chested and man to man. Every time a guest on Question Time dodged a question, the audience could shout “Shot shot shot!” and they would by law have to acquiesce. Think of the viewing figures, the new generation of young people suddenly entranced by the world of public duty?
Do we realise how tediously, face slappingly dull life as an MP is anyway? It’s all well and good if you’re on the front bench; you get to roll your eyes during PMQs and occasionally make eye contact with Andrew Neill socially but what if you’re not? For every Cheryl Cole in politics there are at least twenty backbench Nadine Coyles, desperately pouting and preening, ignored, forgotten and festering with thwarted ambition. Weekdays stuck at tedious Commons meetings, weekends with angry constituents, ungrateful teenage children and an increasingly distant spouse. They can’t even while away the time by concocting new and increasingly creative ways of claiming back arcane things on expenses. Why? Because we’ve rained on that little parade too, haven’t we?
If this fracas reminds us about anything it is that MPs are just normal people. We claim to want them to be, yet every time elected representatives are accused of doing anything remotely relatable, charged with getting their wives to claim their speeding points; Chris Hulme, being unnecessarily horrible to a sibling just because they can; the Millibands, trying and wing it through a job on their looks; Boris Johnson – the public recoils like a maiden aunt in an Oscar Wilde play.
It would be great to have a House of Commons consisting of balanced happy people, who didn’t drink too much, occasionally lie or cheat, misbehave or generally sporadically act like a total idiot. The challenge would be finding 600 of these mythical creatures in time for the next General Election.