I had an early-morning call from the researcher on a radio phone-in asking if I would take part in a discussion about the stress levels suffered by MPs in the execution of their duties, drawing on my own experience.
While happy to oblige, I advised her that I had never found being an MP a particularly stressful calling. Demanding yes but stressful no – and one for which people volunteer rather than being enlisted. An average night in an A&E ward is a lot more stressful than filing through division lobbies for hours on end.
Clearly I was not the man for the role and she phoned back to say they had found a former MP who had suffered from more stress than I professed, so I went back to sleep secure in the view that reports of MPs’ agonies are greatly exaggerated.
The problem is not stress for MPs but how little understanding they are collectively displaying of what others are being put through – real people, real jobs, real businesses – whlle these Parliamentary games are played with no clear end in sight.
Comparing the current imbroglio with my own 18 years in the Commons, there is admittedly one significant factor. Most of that time, there were big majorities – first for the Tories and then for Labour. And big majorities definitely reduce stress levels.
Funnily enough, in the 1990s, it was Tories who suffered most stress – caused by the antics of Eurosceptics, as they used to be known, including fossils still with us like Redwood, Duncan-Smith, Jenkin, Cash. The more John Major’s majority was whittled away, the more they made life miserable for their colleagues.
From one night to the next, Tory whips did not know when the “bastards”, as John Major later called them with indisputable accuracy, would vote against their own Government. So scores of MPs who could otherwise have been at home with their families were held hostage in the Commons, just in case.
In a Parliamentary system, governments need majorities to govern, whether in their own right or by temporary coalition. That has been missing ever since the 2016 referendum and it has condemned the country to this ongoing charade of indecision.
A year ago, I suggested that Theresa May should call another General Election which would have offered the chance of producing a Government with a workable majority – because otherwise, the whole Brexit process was doomed to chaos. And so it has transpired.
MPs “taking control” sounds wonderfully democratic until it is put into practice. In truth, all it has produced is more uncertainty and the prospect of longer delays in securing any kind of outcome.
There seems to be no recognition that delay and uncertainty are themselves serious problems, rather than interim triumphs paving the way for some happy outcome. The huge damage already being wrought is barely discussed though it is very real and the cost will eventually be counted.
A year ago, the position of Labour and the SNP was to accept the referendum result so long as we stayed in a Customs Union. There was no commitment to a second referendum.
At that point, a political consensus might have been achieved. Instead, Mrs May continued to pursue her forced marriage with the DUP and to woo the latter-day “bastards”.
Since then, the second referendum demand has become more strident and anyone who opposes it is denounced as a traitor. Sane compromise is almost impossible because the vultures are circling to crow over anything which does not meet their own demands as sell-out and treachery.
I heard Joanne Cherry of the SNP stating primly that they would abstain on the Customs Union because it does not guarantee freedom of movement which is “one of our red lines”. But is “no deal” not a bolder red line? Maybe not.
MPs could reduce their stress levels through genuine compromise, endorsing the deal currently available and living to fight another day on the subsidiary issues. Kicking the whole mess into touch for months or years is not a solution. It merely perpetuates the problem and extends the damage.