‘Does anyone ever say “you know what, you’ve done a f***ing good job, because everyone else has sat on their a***s and done nothing”?’

If you didn’t know the context behind this quote, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a Jose Mourinho special — a manager famed for fiery interactions with the press corps that often spill over into brazen arrogance. But no. This is the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, caught on a hot mic after concluding an interview on the RAAC crisis.

Plagued by Unprofessionalism

A different Keegan, Kevin, had a similar rant after Sir Alex Ferguson questioned whether Leeds and Nottingham Forest would try as hard against Keegan’s Newcastle as they did against Ferguson’s Manchester United. That, though, was about football — a game that would be nothing without fans, players and managers showing passion and spirit for their club. It was not the comment of someone whose department posted this week that: ‘the vast majority of schools will be unaffected’ by the RAAC crisis. A post that Labour’s press office compared to the mayor of Amity Island saying: ‘Most Beachgoers Not Eaten’ by Jaws. It’s certainly not a quote that exemplifies the ‘professionalism’ that Rishi Sunak promised upon taking office.

It also points to a broader issue in British politics: the way the government operates. Keegan (Gillian, not Kevin) is the fifth education secretary since Gavin Williamson resigned in 2021, and has only held the post since late October of last year. This is not the outcome of a system that runs efficiently or effectively. Whenever a new minister is appointed, it takes time for them to form the necessary relationships with civil servants and to understand the levers at their disposal. Competent MPs who have been in a department for a length of time, or who have expertise in that area, are more likely to understand the challenges and their solutions than someone who’s worked in a political party all their life. To her credit, Keegan is a proud champion of apprenticeships having done one herself at sixteen. Even so, being Education Secretary for just under a year may not be enough time to deal with crises, and the above quote reflects Keegan’s lack of experience.

Politics Should Not Be a Soap Opera

Aside from the ministerial leapfrogging akin to that of the last days of Tsarist Russia, there is another, altogether bigger, problem: the Members of Parliament themselves. Keegan’s quote has perhaps exposed a general mindset amongst our MPs; namely, that one should receive recognition for their work. That, to me, sounds utterly wrong. Being elected as an MP means being chosen to serve your constituents. If you become a minister, that means being elevated to serving your country. Doing everything within your power to fix problems, then, is your job. If you prove to be an able minister, you might get recognition later in life with an honour either from the Monarch or from a Prime Minister. In fact, if you do your job well it arguably should barely be noticed since it implies that you have, to paraphrase George Osborne, fixed the roof while the sun was shining, and subsequently avoided a major crisis.

Some MPs, however, seem to be disinterested in quietly doing the job they were elected to do unless it comes with the promise of ample media coverage. Nadine Dorries, before her eventual resignation, had not spoken in the House of Commons for over a year. She and Matt Hancock have both gone on ‘I’m A Celebrity’ whilst Parliament sat. A career on TV appears to be the real aim of quite a few MPs. Dorries, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Lee Anderson, Esther McVey and Philip Davies all present TV shows. How this can be allowed is beyond me. Politics should not be a soap opera with characters that generate enough entertainment to host TV shows or go on reality TV. This does not produce good government.

Point-Scoring is Not Politics

Even PMQs, a brilliant feature that allows the Prime Minister to be held to account, has withered away to a fraction of its potential. It has descended into a rowdy rabble that is more focused on point-scoring than providing answers to the questions the country wants answered. Thus far, the Prime Minister has done little more than prepare snappy lines on the subjects most likely to come up — often with a dig at the opposition chucked in for free. PMQs has always been the showpiece event of the parliamentary timetable, but lately, the dramatics have become too much.

If the current plague of celebrity had to be summed up with one example, it would be a comparison between Tony Blair’s and Boris Johnson’s remarks at their final PMQs. Blair wished ‘everyone, friend or foe, well’ while Johnson called Sir Keir Starmer a ‘great pointless human bollard,’ signing off with a ‘hasta la vista, baby.’

If this trend of showmanship and partisanship continues, it will damage the efficacy of Parliament to scrutinise the government. This can only lead to worse policy, worse legislation, and a worse future for this country. Instead of promoting their personal or party brands, politicians need to step up and focus on doing what’s right. Isn’t that the point of them?

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