Sir Bill Wiggin
People often ask me about a career in politics. The way I describe it to people is: “Do you remember that scene in Notting Hill (1999) when Rhys Ifans opens the door in his underpants and there they all are taking his picture?” The reality is just like that, when you’re in trouble in British politics – and it’s not nice.
That’s why British journalists are different to everybody else in the world, because they create this very difficult atmosphere for those who want to serve the British people.
It doesn’t happen in other countries. For example, Macron refused to allow pictures of him on a jet-ski in a shop opposite his residence. That level of interference is something that we don’t have here. We don’t have a proper regulator either, and it’s really important that people know that if they’re going to get into politics.
Of course, freedom of the press is a good thing, but you’ve got to remember that bad news is what sells. Therefore, you will not get good coverage if you’re a politician. Anyone who thinks going into politics is going to make them look like a hero is just wrong – and the higher you go up the greasy pole, the worse that becomes.
When I was first elected, Tony Blair was Prime Minister. Blair was an extremely competent performer in the House of Commons: he didn’t always tell the truth exactly as I saw it, putting it gently. When I challenged people about it, they said, “Yeah, but everyone knew he’d just made it up, and they still voted for it.” Since then he has been vilified, and when he was knighted, it all came out again.
But his crime seems to have been to make the Labour Party electable, which they don’t really like. After Blair, Gordon Brown came in and threw his telephones around and was also vilified. And then David Cameron won the election, and thanks to Greensill he has been vilified. Theresa May is next – so far, so good for her – although her Brexit experience was pretty ghastly. Then Boris was put through the mangle for his ‘partygate’ stuff. This was a prime minister who was dealing with a global pandemic, the departure of Britain from the European Union, and Ukraine. These were some really enormous political challenges, and he was attacked for whether or not he attended a party that Dominic Cummings put in his diary as a staff meeting. If people want a career in politics after seeing that, I think they believe it won’t happen to them. And my experience is, they’re wrong. It will.
Every time there’s a general election, there’s a new entry of young or certainly new MPs. One by one they are picked off, and it can be something they didn’t do. It doesn’t have to be true and it doesn’t have to be fair: none of that matters. Once you’re in politics, you are not only fair game, but you’re not even protected by the truth. Your weapon is your ability to speak in the House of Commons, without fear or favour, and you cannot be sued. You can genuinely tell the truth as you see it, and there’s nothing rich people can do to stop you. That is a really powerful weapon in the fight for freedom and truth, which in the 21st century, with the extraordinary ability we have to communicate with one another, should be the highest principle.
What you read on the internet should be telling you the truth, or it should be couched in a way that you can discount it. That’s what I think young people today should be pushing for. At the moment, we’re all trapped in the idea that if it’s on the internet, then it must be true. I tested this at a school I spoke to recently where they said I was anti-gay marriage. And I’m not! And when I told them that, their faces all seemed to say, “What? But I read it!” That is what you are up against when you put yourself forward for a career in politics.
Sir Bill Wiggin is the MP for North Herefordshire