Wednesday 15 February 2012

Half term

It's half term and time to take stock while Westminster is deserted. 

The Daily Mail today reports on children being unprepared for school, but the parallels with Westminster are striking. This shocking report reveals all: 

"They wear nappies, drink and don't know how to open a book. One whip’s terrifying insight into 50-year-olds failed by their parents" 

England is failing its members of parliament ‘on a grand scale’ when it comes to achieving basic levels of social and emotional development. Experts have warned that general ineptitude is leaving two in every five MPs unable to perform simple life skills. 

Here, one whip describes a day in the life of the House of Commons. What she says will shock you…

“Glancing at the clock, I realise it’s time for me to change Nicky’s nappy. Past experience tells me he will make a fuss, so I doubt it will be a smooth operation. Of course, most babies dislike having their nappies changed, but that’s the problem: Nicky isn’t a baby, he is forty-five years old. Nicky isn’t the only child in the house who still wears nappies and, of course, accidents do happen, but almost every day I have to clear up after MPs who have soiled themselves. 

Parents seem to believe that giving their MPs fundamental life skills isn’t their responsibility; they think that it’s the job of Parliament. I have been a whip for eight years, and over the past few years I’ve witnessed a shocking decline in MP’s basic skills. Their grasp of simple economics is well below what I would expect of a five-year old and few of them come to the house trained in basic decency. At times it is all one can do to be heard above the shouting. Discipline is a real problem because nobody has ever told them, ‘No’. 

When MPs have absolutely no concept of numbers, it’s simply impossible to agree on a National Curriculum, which sets out very basic attainment targets — for example, being able to count from one to ten. Many of the ones I handle have trouble grasping the most basic of concepts. When I mentioned that the economy should be growing, several MPs looked puzzled and asked me what the word ‘growing’ meant. And they have such short concentration spans that after the first hesitant stroke of crayon on paper, they are off, running up and down the chamber." 

MPs playing at dressing up, just before their nap

"As for bedtime, many of the members simply don’t have one. Some of them arrive at Westminster so exhausted from playing on their computers until the early hours of the morning that I regularly have to put them down for a nap in the afternoon. 

It is very difficult to work with MPs when their parents seem to work against you. Whips who try to instil boundaries and a sense of right and wrong often end up castigated— and, sadly, the senior management can’t always be relied upon to stand up for us. 

There was one boy, Eddie, in my division, who was quite a handful and was constantly spitting at other children. He seemed to especially dislike another little boy, David, calling him horrible names and hitting him. Taking Eddie’s mum, Harriet, aside one afternoon when she came to pick him up, I asked if we could have a quiet word. ‘Would you mind backing me up on what I’ve told Eddie, that he can’t spit at other MPs?’ I asked her, smiling. 

Her response left me flabbergasted. ‘You’re picking on my boy. How dare you tell me how to bring him up!’ she fumed. She then made a formal complaint against me to the speaker, and to my amazement, he demanded an official enquiry. 

I love my job, and I love seeing MPs grow, learn and flourish. What is so distressing is witnessing the way so many have simply abdicated responsibility over the past decade. Some members seem to think that their job is to give their constituents whatever they want. Tragically, many of the members in the Commons have experienced a horribly stunted childhood where they have never wanted for anything. They are painfully aware of adult concepts like binge-drinking, insider trading and deviant sex, yet can’t name a single proper job. 

I shudder to think what the future holds for us.”

(It's frightening how few changes I had to make to the original article!)

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