Missing the main events

A MAJOR advantage to being a blogging MP, as opposed to being simply a blogger, is that I’m in a position to offer unique insights from the perspective of the House of Commons.

So for instance, you may well have expected me to talk about the drama in the chamber today when John McDonnell tried to make off with the mace in protest at the absence of a vote on Heathrow’s third runway.

Except I can’t, because I wasn’t there. 

This always happens to me. Once, during Treasury questions a few years ago, I was sitting next to Dennis Skinner. I left the chamber briefly to make a phone call and as I walked back in, I passed Dennis, who was leaving. He didn’t look particularly fazed or upset, so I thought nothing more of it. It was only later I discovered that a few seconds after leaving the chamber to make my call, Dennis had stood up to accuse “Boy” George Osborne of drug use! He had just been named and suspended from the Commons when I passed him.

And then there was Otis Ferry’s invasion of the chamber during the debate on the ban on fox hunting. I was in the tearoom when that happened and only realised something was up when “Sitting suspended” was displayed on the annunciator.

I was there in 2004, however, when those entirely sane and responsible individuals of Father4Justice* launched their missiles of purple dust from the public gallery of the Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions. As I saw the dust descend on the crowded benches, I stood up from my position on the front bench (the front bench that’s actually a back bench, if you follow me) just below the gangway. Sky News, as my big brother Kenny gleefully told me later, showed the same piece of hundreds of times thereafter, apparently showing the Honourable Member for Glasgow Cathcart (as my constituency was then called) jumping up to save his own skin. In fact, I was wearing a brand new suit and was worried about it being stained…

But I wasn’t there today, sadly. As he said himself on TV afterwards, John is not at all a flamboyant MP and he did what he did out of frustration and on behalf of his constituents. He’s paid the price with a five-day suspension. But support for a third runway has been his party’s policy since before the last general election. And however strongly some of his constituents feel against these plans, many, many more, I suspect, owe their jobs, directly or indirectly to Heathrow and might not feel as disappointed today as John clearly does.

* written under legal advice


Filed under Economy, Environment, Parliament

21 responses to “Missing the main events

  1. John

    “when those entirely sane and responsible individuals of Father4Justice*”
    * written under legal advice

    Are you joking about the legal advice thing? Even if you had said “those absolutely barking mad idiots from Father(s)4Justice” it’s covered by fair comment given their outlandish activities that threaten both their own safety and the safety of others. Also, it’s clearly abusive, and abuse isn’t actionable, at all.

    So were you joking about that Tom? I hope you were.

  2. I was joking. Otherwise I wouldn’t have published your comment.

    You still don’t get me, do you John?

  3. A while back there was another insane group who were a lot worse than fathers for justice, and a lot more violent. They threw themselves under horses, attacked elected members of Parliament in the street and when arrested, promptly went on hunger strike. They were villified by the great and the good, particularly in your Westminster drinking hole.

    Now they have the vote. What a larf.

    What a small, tiny mind you have Tom.

  4. Blackacre

    What a shame you were not there – would have loved an eye witness account as the TV pics inevitably missed all the action.

    I have done an email to congratulate Mr Mcdonnell on his brilliant piece of theatre.

  5. John

    In all seriousness? Not at all! 😛

    You are a very difficult man to get a read on Mr Harris. I mostly have absolutely no idea whether you are joking or not.

    If you can back that up with a blank expression in person, then should I ever be lucky (or unlucky – depending on who you ask no doubt 😉 ) enough to meet you, then you can take great delight in winding me up with ease! 😛

    Looking back it was fairly obvious you were joking. D’oh! 😦

  6. Quentin

    ” in 2004 ……In fact, I was wearing a brand new suit..”

    And I bet you were wearing that same stripey tie that features in so many of your pics. 🙂

  7. Stu

    Shame on the Labour Party of which I am a member, the trouble with consultations with this Government and it was the same under Blair, is that they should be renamed statements of intent. The views of objectors are just given scant regard.
    Apart from the enviriomental issues that have been totally ignored, I really feel for those people living in real, yes real communities that will end up with their homes and community flattened just for the sake of so called progress, and the top it all the government and some in the Labour Party just dont care, shame on you all.
    Good luck to those who oppose this disgrace in their campaign and its good to see an MP with passion for a change

  8. So, what were you doing? As my MP I think I have the right to know!

  9. Phil C

    The “jobs” argument is irrelevant. Assuming we want to expand air travel infrastucture, the jobs will be there, although admittedly not in the London Borough of Hounslow. BAA and BA should be exposed to competition by expanding elsewhere, not at Heathrow which is, and always has been, a cretinously stupid place for an airport. It will be interesting to read the report on Boris Island which I believe is out next week.

  10. John

    “So, what were you doing? As my MP I think I have the right to know!”

    Do you seriously believe this? Where does it say that MP’s have to have a 100% attendance rate at the commons? Also, where does it say that their day to day activities are subject to inquisition from a nosy member of the electorate?

    I think criticism of MP’s has reached silly season. Some of it is certainly justified, but as with all things people take it too far, with unreasonable expectations and requests.

    If anyone’s unhappy with their MP then use your vote at an election. That’s certainly what i’ll be doing against my Labour MP.

    I once wrote off to him asking what he thought of an EDM, and whether he was going to sign it. My answer was a short and unspecific reply that appeared to be carbon copied to everyone who asked him about it, with my name written in at the top. It basically said, “Thanks for your letter, enclosed is a letter from the government outlining government policy”. Um, that’s not what I asked, and cheers for the impersonal and unhelpful reply. Tosser.

    I mean, how hard is it to spend a minute throwing togather 4 or 5 lines in response to me personally? My letter justified no more than that, and it would show me that you actually cared about my issue.

    That’s partly why I myself will seek to be an MP at some point in the future – because people deserve better than that, and I can do better than that.

  11. Auntie Flo'

    Well done, John McDonell, I could kiss you for what you did today! Thank God for an MP who who wants to restore democracy to parliament.

    I bet the deputy speaker today felt more than a little sympathy with McDonell’s frustration and anger, if not his method of expressing it. I’ve been at a few Stop Stansted Expansion meetings where Sir Alan Hazlehurst has spoken eloquently and from the the heart against the government’s plans for out of control airport expansion.

    I recall 0ne memorable speech of Sir Alan’s where he asked:

    “If we don’t fight this now with everything we have, how will we look our children in the eyes in years to come when they ask us how COULD you have allowed this to happen?”

  12. Chris' Wills

    Tom, did you happen to be around when MPs expenses were discussed? I understand that you’ll be less open than was being previously mooted.
    No need to offer proof for claims upto £25. Very strange, the inland revenue would look askance at that in private industry. Still able to furnish your 2nd home at our expense, very nice little perk. Seems nothing will actually change.

    I know that wonder women is used to not telling the truth; but putting the proposals when every minister knew that Heathrow would be the talking point is continuing the deviousness and duplicity.

  13. Andy

    To be honest I think McDonnell’s protest was ridiculous. It looked contrived (so yes, I agree with Iain Dale) and it seems more like a weak cry for help than a true expression of outrage.

    (and I’m against Heathrow expansion!)

  14. Rosie

    just watched the video of this on BBC, the most astounding part is that Hazelhurst seems to panic and has to be told by one of his underlings to name him

    hasnt he been dep speaker for ages? should he not know he ‘needs’ to name people.

  15. Auntie Flo'


    That is so pot to kettle…

  16. Duncan

    I think sometimes in the media whirl of Gordon and Dave and gossip and nonsense, we forget that the people are there to represent their constituents. An anouncement was made in parliament yesterday which means a village in John’s constituency will be bull-dozed and he isn’t even given the opportunity to record a vote against it. It would have been contempt of parliamentary democracy for him NOT to register a protest.

  17. Chris

    John, if you do become an MP, any idea how many letters you’ll be getting a week? With time in the chamber, divisions, constituency surgeries and constituency functions as well, might find personally replying to all letters a bit difficult.

    Good luck though

  18. Harry T

    Brown must have given Hoon Transport knowing this would come up. He is such a bureaucracy drone.

  19. Dave H.

    Re. purple powder staining a suit.

    Don’t worry Tom Harris MP, if you ever need to get a suit professionally cleaned, the taxpayer won’t quibble over the receipt.

    They can’t.

    Any contrition over this backsliding on transparency? Any pause for thought that this might be precisely why mentioning ‘trustworthy’ before ‘MP’ brings howls of derision from the public?

    Thought not.

    And you are one of the less infected ones.

  20. John

    “John, if you do become an MP, any idea how many letters you’ll be getting a week? With time in the chamber, divisions, constituency surgeries and constituency functions as well, might find personally replying to all letters a bit difficult.

    Good luck though”

    As a Trainee Solicitor i’m used to dealing with rather a lot of correspondence and some pretty unsociable hours as it is. So i’m hardly “green” or ignorant of the tasks involved.

    My thoughts are, for £67,000pa plus expenses, my constituents deserve my attention, even if it’s just spending a few seconds reading their letter and then firing off a few lines in response. Not every letter requires an essay in response after all, mine certainly didn’t – 4 lines tops would have been more than adequate. After all, the majority of people don’t even know who their MP’s, let alone have the desire to contact them. So the one’s that do deserve to have their issues considered, even if it’s for the briefest of seconds.

    In fact, i’ve spent more time on this comment that I would have spent on about 3 quick response letters.

    Sending you a generic letter that has absolutely no relevance to what you actually asked is a waste of my time and his, although it’s a good way of ensuring that I won’t waste my time troubling him with any other issues.

    Thanks for the Good Luck though. I will no doubt need it.

  21. wrinkled weasel

    From what I recall of the video coverage of the purple powder incident you were one of the lucky ones. By the terrified looks on the faces of some Honourable members, they might have needed certain other stains attended to.

    But as Dave H says, who knows? We shan’t be seeing the receipts any time soon.

    Will you voluntarily publish yours?

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