Opinion

Paul McNamee: We elect them. Make them work for us

"Some politicians CAN get things done - but all of them, good and bad, are nothing without us"

Last week, a politician in Scotland pressed the wrong button and messed up a major plan.

In a vote in Glasgow City Council, blundering Anne Simpson voted no when she meant to vote yes and a £400m scheme to privatise the IT system – which her party was all for – was sent way back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, over in Belfast, Trevor Clarke, an MLA, an elected politician in the devolved assembly, said he only recently learned that heterosexual people could contract HIV. Only recently learned. Only recently.

The descent of politicians from places of respect to the same level as estate agents and journalists has been swift.

When you learn about Simpson and Clarke it’s easy to see why the electorate gets exasperated.

But short of a coup d’etat and agreement to live under some sort of dictatorship, that’s what we’ve got.

There is a growing notion that there aren’t enough politicians of heft and vision able to plot future paths for the good of us all. The maligned Tony Blair has talked about the political homeless, about a need find a way to bring back progressive political debate.

There is a growing notion that there aren’t enough politicians of heft and vision able to plot future paths for the good of us all

And no sooner had Ed Balls two-stepped out of Strictly than he was being asked if he’d bring his big brain back into frontline politics. In truth, that doesn’t clear anything up. Rather, it’s uncertain if the call to return means we like our politicians to be intellectual heavyweights or spray-tanned television personalities. If it’s the latter, Jeremy Corbyn really is in the stew.

It does, though, lead to the question of what politicians are actually FOR.

You could point to the great debating skill from Westminster newcomers such as Mhairi Black. But the really important work is happening elsewhere. MPs Behind Closed Doors is a simple TV show that focused on three politicians – Naz Shah, Nick Clegg and Jacob Rees-Mogg – meeting their constituents, trying to help them.

Most telling was when a mother of a child with severe learning difficulties, whose son was out of school because of an administrative cock-up, asked for help. This was a mother at her wits’ end trying to do her very best but hit by red tape and jobsworth refusals. Shah, angry, moved, didn’t say she’d write an angry letter or look into it. She dealt with it. Which goes some way to prove the value of MPs and the fact that they CAN get things done.

Introducing RORA Jobs and Training

Whether you’re in work, currently unemployed, or worried about your future job security, Big Issue RORA Jobs & Training is here to help. Search our latest jobs, register for alerts, browse training courses and find your next role today.  

Find out more

One of the great tragedies of the murder of Jo Cox was that she was, by all accounts, really good at this sort of thing. She cared for people; she got things done. It’s reassuring that there remain good elected representatives who want to do the same.

It also proves that we have a broken system in place that penalises people who are simply trying to do the right thing for their families, the families who face difficulties due to illness or disability. While it is good that politicians help those who come to them to work a way through, it’s also true that politicians helped erect the scaffold of problems in the first place.

The denominator in this is us. We have to challenge the inequities, the punishing practices. We have to be the progressive alliance, the voices that rise. The politicians, good and bad, are nothing without us. We must remember that we hold the power.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

Photo: Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
When it comes to poverty prevention it's minds we must change – before anything else
John Bird

When it comes to poverty prevention it's minds we must change – before anything else

We have no long-term housing plan. Here's why the Church of England is stepping up to fix it
Bishop for housing Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani says it will take more than political leaders to end England's housing crisis, including the housing sector, the royals and the Church. Image: Church of England
Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani

We have no long-term housing plan. Here's why the Church of England is stepping up to fix it

Alex Sobel MP: 'We need a serious, long-term and science-led plan to tackle climate emergency'
Alex Sobel MP
Earth Day

Alex Sobel MP: 'We need a serious, long-term and science-led plan to tackle climate emergency'

No one wants to host 2026 Commonwealth Games. What if Glasgow had another go? 
Paul McNamee

No one wants to host 2026 Commonwealth Games. What if Glasgow had another go? 

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know