‘You don’t even know what you’re voting for’: MP paints damning portrait of life in Westminster
An MP whose election was expected to trigger a new age of democratic legitimacy in Britain has issued a damning assessment of life in parliament.
Sarah Wollaston, who was Britain's first candidate for parliament selected by the 'open primary' system, has given an interview to the Observer in which she says that most parliamentarians have no idea what they are voting on at any given time.
"You are encouraged – it is the same for all parties – not to worry about what it is you're voting for because the whips are there to guide you," she said.
"I am never put on a delegated legislation committee on something which I could contribute to. The classic case was when I was put on one on double taxation in Oman. I know nothing about double taxation in Oman.
Wollaston, who was a GP before entering parliament, has proved a difficult MP to control and there are reports that the coalition has quietly dropped its plans to expand the open primary programme.
That decision could have been taken due to the £40,000 price tag per selection but others believe that Wollaston's independent-minded example put David Cameron off the idea.
"The thing I find most frustrating here is that what's really valued in politics is absolute loyalty, and I am often told that in saying things that are awkward I am damaging the chances of some of my colleagues being re-elected," she said.
"I am told that what the public want to see is a united front. Well, I think we need to change the narrative. I think the public dislike the cardboard cutout, the lobby fodder, the sycophantic [planted] questions [in the Commons] … they don't like it."
She added: "I try to do things through what are beautifully known here as the 'usual channels' but the reality is that you can go through the 'usual channels' and you do not get any response at all.
"The frustrating thing as someone who comes in from outside is that you realise that people who come through the political sausage machine are like fish in water here.
"From day one they arrive understanding how the system works, whereas someone like me spends a lot of time banging their heads against the wall and soon you just realise that a lot of things that happen here happen in rooms to which you are not invited.
"That is the issue. I think it is part of the way that women here tend to get overlooked because the system is kind of blind to the way these networks work."
The damning assessment of life as an MP paints a depressing portrait of old-boys networks, a paralysed political machine and a working culture which stifles independent thought.
Wollaston, who went public with her concerns after the government decided to drop plans for minimum alcohol pricing, has still not been able to make her views clear in Downing Street.
"I have phoned repeatedly and emailed – that is just the way it is. Sometimes they come back, and then it has been cancelled," she said.
"He is a busy man and it will happen, but I personally think public health is very important."
The Totnes MP also expressed sympathy for Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, who is jeered when he speaks in the Commons.
"The Commons is like swimming with sharks. If there is a drop of blood in the water, off they go," she said.
"I have seen MPs taunted because of their regional accents. If that happened in any other workplace, you would be sacked."