New uniforms, new haircuts and new shoes at the ready, many children went back to school this week (to the ones that aren’t about to crumble around their heads, that is). It was, too, the return of “Hogwarts” — many of us MPs often make the comparison between Parliament and J.K. Rowling’s mysterious, sprawling, magical school full of secrets, wizardry and strange goings-on.
Labour’s class of 2017, of which I am a member, has struggled through the past few years of Brexit legislation, the Corbyn era, our party’s greatest election defeat in history, the shame of both antisemitism and the Forde report, and the virtual-voting lockdown Covid parliament.
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We are no longer the new kids. We have graduated to “middle school” and are starting to establish ourselves as members of the Shadow Cabinet, junior prefects, Head Girls and Boys under our current Headmaster. This week, he doled out the Senior School roles first, then the prefects and milk monitors were appointed. Our sports teams were fully filled and kitted out for the start of the new competition season.
It’s always fascinating to watch from the sidelines as this charade plays out.
First comes the not-so-subtle toadying up to teachers (aka lobbying), then the speculation and rumours, followed by the seething rage as current shadow ministers have to endure the humiliating and crude discourtesy of reading another’s appointment to their role via a Labour Party tweet. Watch them quietly boiling away for days, with a rictus grin plastered on as they wait to announce themselves “thrilled” with whatever’s left. Which kind of begs the question: how did they grin and bear the past 10 months or two years as Minister for Endangered Birds if what they really longed for was to be Minister for Ethical Fashion?
As somebody who wandered into this Hogwartian world from an ordinary job, I am a stranger to the dark art of “spin”. I do not come from a long and distinguished line of former wizards working at the Ministry of Magic, I did not get a scholarship here because my friends or family saved me a seat and I did not go to kindergarten with anyone who works in the Headmaster’s office.
So I watch with amusement at those who slotted into the very safest Labour seats — where they replaced disgraced, retiring or fed-up former colleagues — get promoted to the shadow frontbench after a mere handful of appearances in the chamber (of secrets) and without so much as attending even the first lesson in How to Communicate Well With Muggle Voters. Hardly the most obvious possessors of sparkling charisma or subject specialism, they are tweeting their gratitude before even the first chair is installed in their new offices. So what is their secret? What is the magic needed to proceed so effortlessly at such rapid speed?
I feel like a muggle. I do not possess that particular spell — it seems to be a closely guarded one, handed down through families or magical societies. But I’m not a dunce at this school. My own achievements may pale in comparison but I am proud of them: winning a seat never before held by a woman, or any member of my party; refusing to allow fear or threat or the silence of those around me to stop me from calling out antisemitism and telling the most basic of truths about male violence and biology. But more than that, I appear to have influenced not only Government policy but my own school rules as well. Something that I have been campaigning on, along with friends at other schools, has now made it into our mission statement. But I found out in the same way that those anointed to the front row did — through social media.
So, back in the real world, I will continue to fulfil the role I have been permanently cast in: the child announcing the Emperor is stark naked as he parades a new suit of clothes spun by a couple of charlatan tailors, versed at spinning tall tales to please those in power.