Protests aren’t that uncommon, but naked ones are a real innovation. They had their backs to us, so we were spared a full-frontal view. Somewhat distracted, the debate went on, peppered with the occasional pun until our naked viewers were eventually removed by the police who acted with a dignified professionalism, including when it became clear that some of the protesters had glued themselves to the window overlooking the Chamber.
More was to come. Parliamentary leaks are not unheard of, but they generally relate to policy. Later that very same week, whilst giving a speech in a Loan Charges debate, I heard what sounded like a power shower that had been turned on just behind me. Water had started cascading down the walls caused by a leak from the ageing Commons roof into the Chamber, halting proceedings for the day.
It all felt symbolic of the chaos that has gripped our Parliamentary system, alongside the gridlock. And although local constituency issues always keep every MP extremely busy, in Parliament we’ve had just one vote since mid-April. The system has ground to a halt and, as the protestors made clear, it needs a kick up the backside.
And a crumbling Parliament seems to be the embodiment of a wider broken politics.
But at time of writing, it seems that we’re almost certainly about to embark on a brand-new aspect of broken politics – a Tory leadership campaign, with more runners and riders than you see at Doncaster Races. So at a time of national crisis, rather than putting all its time into dealing with that, my party is about to prioritise a conversation with itself.
A typical leadership contest will see candidates focus on winning over the 150,000 people in the Conservative ‘tribe’ first and worry about everyone else later. But there’s nothing typical about the times we live in, so on this occasion, that’s surely the wrong way around. All it will deliver is a Pyrrhic victory, because any new Prime Minster will face the same Parliamentary maths and the same Brexit gridlock.
What our country actually needs is a resolution on Brexit and a vision of the kind of 21st century Britain we want. To me the answers to those questions have been clear for some time.
It might be unpalatable, but the only way out of the parliamentary gridlock is to go back to the people in a fresh vote. It’s been almost a year since I wrote in The Yorkshire Post that nothing else will break the stalemate. Only the people can say whether what the Prime Minister is proposing is really the Brexit they voted for – the indications are they think it’s a bum deal and, in a democracy, they should be able to remedy that at the ballot box.
Only then can we get on with building a better Britain where people can be the best version of themselves. My vision is a country where no matter who or what you are, or where you start, you can go as far as your talents can take you. Research by the Social Mobility Pledge shows that 59 per cent of people in Yorkshire think the Government is not doing enough to boost social mobility by making it easier to get on in life.
Driving strong social mobility needs a level of radical thinking and ambition well beyond anything we’ve seen before. And action now, not just promises of change tomorrow. A strategy that can galvanise a whole country.
My campaign on social mobility takes me to communities right across Britain. People and businesses have great ideas on how to transform our country. They don’t need someone in Whitehall to tell them what good looks like. So I’m now going to use the Social Mobility Pledge campaign to share the best ideas from people as well as from businesses.
The current system doesn’t work for enough of us, but we can make it different. I need your help too. If you feel the same and have ideas for how we make Britain fairer, where what counts is effort not entitlement, then go on the Social Mobility Pledge website and tell me what they are.
I’ve called it “Our Big Opportunity”. The more radical, the better – we’re not going to fix access to opportunity in Britain by just keeping everything the same.
Politics is consumed by Brexit and there’s far too much narrow thinking in the Westminster bubble. It’s full of lobbyists and think tanks talking to themselves, and not enough common sense. That’s why it can seem so out of touch when the public feel the answers are obvious. No one person has all the solutions, but collectively we do.
If you can take two minutes to throw your idea into the “Our Big Opportunity” pot, then just maybe, along with everyone else’s, we can create a plan that changes Britain for the better for good.
Justine Greening is a Conservative MP. Born in Rotherham, she is the former Education Secretary. Go to ww.socialmobility.pledge.org to register your ideas and join the debate.