A famous actor looks tearfully into the camera. It is Michael Sheen, or possibly Ewan McGregor. His voice cracks as he says: ‘For just £5 a month, you could help an MP recover from the shock of having his Brexit amendment rejected. Just £5 will help pay for counsellors trained to help our brave MPs debate EU withdrawal motions. Please donate now so that MPs like Nick Boles know you care. They give so much of themselves, and ask so little…’
I exaggerate, but only a bit. We keep hearing from MPs about how the stress of Brexit is harming them mentally and emotionally. You might think the nation’s elected representatives would be apologising to the public for the mess they have made. Instead, they just moan to us that their mental health is at risk. Their concern for themselves is such that Deputy Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has written to all members urging them to seek help from Westminster’s mental health services, including a confidential 24-hour counselling line.
How the hell do they think the people of this country are feeling, having realised that their leaders are ridiculously incompetent, and that the votes of 17.4 million people don’t really count? What counselling and mental health support are they going to offer us? Unlike MPs, we won’t be asking for help, because every Leave voter in this country has demonstrated more resilience of mind than their elected representatives.
Mental fortitude and courage used to be things we aspired to. The British elite once prided itself on being cool under pressure. No longer. In an age where even the tactics of our soldiers in combat are frowned on and all displays of machismo are deemed scandalous, courage was always going to atrophy. Now, we see a ruling class riddled with anxiety, self-pity and cowardice.
When an elite becomes obsessed with its feelings, ridiculous things happen. Parliament becomes a reality TV show. Watch Nick Boles resigning the whip because his party did not recognise the brilliance of his customs union amendment — ‘I gave this everything I’ve got!’ — and one is put in mind of Richard E. Grant in Withnail And I throwing a tantrum in which he drinks lighter fluid and covers himself in Deep Heat: ‘Something’s got to be done! We can’t go on like this!’ Listen to Conservative MP Phillip Lee bleating about how MPs are ‘visibly struggling’ under the strain of Brexit. ‘There are MPs who have snapped in what has become a pressure cooker environment,’ he said. ‘You’ve seen tears, anger and arguments between colleagues, most of whom are simply exhausted.’
Or take the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who, after the indicative votes last week, said that he was ‘fraught and stressed all night’. All night!
‘For someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about the challenges of mental ill health,’ he added, ‘these are the perfect conditions for many MPs to really struggle.’
Poor souls. Yet the Westminster snowflake is not found only in parliament. A virtual interactive counsellor called DogBot has been created to help civil servants suffering from stress and has had more than 4,000 ‘conversations’ in the past year. It’s a basset hound and lives in a ‘well-being hub’. If you ask me, it should be virtually rescued by animal welfare charities.
Labour MPs are just as precious, notwithstanding the gruff northern accents which might lead one to hope for better. In his letter to members, Deputy Speaker Hoyle, the Labour MP for Chorley, said: ‘Colleagues and all staff have been working around the clock since we returned after Christmas.’ Shame.
‘The February recess was cancelled and it appears that the Easter break will be much shorter than planned.’ Heavens to Betsy.
‘MPs, parliamentary staff and House employees are all human and it is vital that in times of heightened stress in the workplace we can access the necessary health and wellbeing support.’ Oh please.
Education committee chair and former Tory minister Robert Halfon said: ‘It feels like the Commons is having a collective breakdown — a cross between Lord of the Flies and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. People are behaving in ways that were unimaginable even just a year ago, whether they be Remainers, Leavers or in-betweens. The Brexit madness has affected us all.’ No, the madness is you. You’ve turned Brexit into a vehicle for expressing your own insanity.
Maybe our politicians need to lay off the booze. The Commons bars never seem to be in danger of going broke, which they would be if MPs became more abstemious to improve their mental health. The truth is, MPs have made no effort to look after themselves over the years. For decades, they’ve stuffed their faces with rich food and fine wines, glugged back pints of beer on the Commons terrace and gone abroad on freebie — sorry, fact-finding — trips.
They were probably on the verge of burnout from the high living. Yet now they land it all on us. If we had all just done as we were told and answered the nice, easy question by ticking the Remain box, none of this unpleasantness would have happened.
Attorney general Geoffrey Cox has revealed that he was reading poetry to ‘order his thoughts’. Poetry isn’t going to cut it, Geoffrey. What our MPs need is the sort of tough-love therapy that forces them to face their demons and cough up about why they’re behaving like such freak shows. Was Nanny mean to them? Did Daddy expect too much? Was Mother undemonstrative? Come on, spit it out! The country can’t take much more dysfunctionality. Snap out of it.
Melissa Kite and Stewart Jackson on MPs under pressure.