Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Sheila Hancock: “I don’t care if I’m cancelled. Death will do that soon anyway”

After being challenged by readers for complaining about politics, I have written my own road-map to a solution 
December 6, 2023

Yesterday, waiting for the fishmonger to fillet my mackerel, I got into conversation with a half a dozen other customers in the shop. We shared memories of lockdown with disbelief that more than three years had passed since we shut ourselves away, washed our hands red-raw, wiped down deliveries with disinfectant, took nervous daily walks while not daring to sit on a bench next to anyone and watched through windows as confused old people died uncomforted. Someone asked, “do you think we would be so obedient now?” There was an immediate chorus of “no way”, “not bloody likely” and “what—obey this fuckin’ lot?”

We have been watching, open-mouthed, the behaviour of “this fuckin’ lot” revealed during the Covid inquiry. Most of us obeyed the rules, even though there were clues in the daily briefings that all was not well. We solemnly listened to the medical experts on either side of the dishevelled clown who was in charge of the country. We observed his impatience with diagrams and warnings, which he dismissed with roguish positivity in his fatal desire to be loved. Then there was Matt Hancock, our health minister, swearing he knew all the answers, when he didn’t even know there was a camera recording him groping his girlfriend’s bum.

I and my fish shop friends mulled over the series of failures since that time by a line-up of risible leaders and a Cabinet chosen to Get Brexit Done, and little else. And our constitution didn’t prevent a fanatical Svengali with a bald head, un-ironed shirt and bad eyesight from using his dim-witted Eton and Oxford-educated Trilby to attempt to totally change the structure of government.

Mind you, I am with Cummings there: change is imperative. We need people of wisdom and vision; leaders who treat us like grown-ups, facing the future with trepidation but also excitement; a government capable of implementing the huge changes needed to cope with AI, global warming, mass migration, worldwide unrest and the rise of populism. 

On the occasions I have visited parliament, it feels like a run-down gentlemen’s club: lots of jokes, lots of showing how they all get on, lots of booze. These days, in the Commons chamber, there are often a few members sprawled on the benches, and some are even having a nice snooze. Occasionally they will deign to attend and have a braying session at Prime Minister’s Questions, but the place seems to have lost its purpose. 

Okay, let’s close it down, get rid of the existing House of Commons and have members meet in a less confrontational, circular chamber. No more aggressive swords-length separation, no more playground shouting and barracking. No mobiles. No reading out prepared speeches or watching porn. It will be a space solely for listening to others, thrashing out the pros and cons of a problem. And no party whips, telling MPs what to say and banning disagreement. They won’t be necessary anyway, because—and this is my most important reform—there will be no more political parties, which drive MPs to make decisions for outdated ideological reasons.

In my plan each constituency will elect their MP by voting for people who are truly local. Candidates will seriously want to serve their country for a few years, in what must be a well-paid job. Maybe a doctor, dustman or teacher who knows the problems of their area and comes to the appointment with an open mind, a knowledge of world affairs and a desire for radical change. In my mad, idealistic scheme, they will campaign to be chosen from about four candidates with obligatory public meetings where the voters can listen to and challenge them, thereby helping them make their choice of representative. 

Oh, and it will be compulsory for the electorate to attend at least one of these meetings to entitle them to their vote. (And I don’t care if I’m cancelled. Death will do that soon anyway.)

The House of Lords will be abolished and replaced by experts, elected by people that know them. For example, film, TV and theatre unions would choose a media representative; people working in the NHS will choose the representative of the medical profession. The same selection process will apply for scientists, carers, housewives, transport workers, etc etc, so that we have a second chamber vetting new laws, with a spokesperson in the ranks who has personal experience of what is being discussed.

The overriding rule for my new parliament will be the novelty of absolute honesty. One lie detected and they are fired—we are sick of lies. If MPs are not sure about something they will say so. And they will keep talking until they find a solution. Locked in if necessary.

And for God’s sake, let some women’s voices be heard. The Covid inquiry has revealed the incompetence of unleavened male power. 

So, there it is. What was that word used during Covid? Oh yes, roadmap. This is my roadmap for a revolution. There are a few loose ends to tidy up but could it be worse than what we have now?