A Day in the Life…
Before entering Parliament I loved Fridays. The excitement of the weekend, that ‘Friday feeling’ and the chance to reflect on what you had achieved during the working week. As an MP, Fridays now routinely represent a 14 hour working day – sometimes longer – complicated by working in two bases 320 miles apart, often traversing a huge constituency, holding constituency surgeries and dealing with whatever crisis pops up. My ‘Friday feeling’ as an MP is very different to how it used to be and this is further complicated by being an Opposition Frontbencher. This means that I sometimes have to cancel all of my Friday constituency appointments and deal with legislation in the House of Commons on behalf of the Opposition during ‘sitting Fridays’. These sessions deal with Private Members Bills (PMBs) brought forward by individual MPs (not parties) – one such time was last Friday.
Having succeeded in the ballot to bring forward a PMB, the Conservative’s retiring Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) chose to introduce a Bill produced by the national charity Breast Cancer Care. The ‘Off-Patent Drugs Bill’ is designed to make cheap drugs with expired patents more widely available for patients with a variety of conditions – leukemia, breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and more. I met with the charity before the Bill was introduced to the Commons, went through the detail with its authors and decided that the merits of the Bill were such that Labour would support it.
A Labour Shadow Health Minister supporting a Bill introduced by a backbench Conservative MP. Backed by a welter of patient groups, clinical experts and charities, the Bill could have improved the lives of millions.
The government refused to support the Bill. The chance to quickly and cheaply alleviate the suffering of millions has now been lost; the Bill has fallen and is unlikely to be reintroduced any time soon. In making the case for the Bill, I told the House that:
“Every day, people ask themselves, “What is the point of politics? What is the point of Parliament?” Unless we act to address these legitimate concerns, this place will drift towards not only irrelevance, but illegitimacy. The purpose of each of us in this House, on both sides, is to make better the lives of the people who sent us here. That is our principal aim. I urge Members on in all parts of the House, and the Government, to do what we were sent here to do – act to make life better and to demonstrate that Parliament, and politics, can work.”
The vote was called and Conservative MPs and Ministers rushed from all corners of the Palace of Westminster to vote against the Bill. I stood and watched as the Secretary of State ran in a panic to the ‘No’ lobby only to be restrained by a government whip, told not to vote and sent away. Moving to the other end of the ‘No’ lobby, I saw scores of government MPs standing outside, obeying the Whips’ instructions not to vote. This means that the vote wasn’t quorate and so the Bill fell. They had the numbers to beat the Bill honestly, but they didn’t want to be seen voting against such a clearly popular and necessary piece of legislation.
This was, of course, a rotten, despicable and increasingly typical act.
If you or anyone you know and love would have benefited from this Bill succeeding, then I’m truly sorry.
We should never give up on politics, but it’s past time we gave up on those politicians currently running our country. It was the worst Friday in a long time.