“Someone tell Jack Monroe she has something in her hair!” someone tweeted me at 11pm last night. That would be sick then, or sicked-up shrimp, to be precise. A combination of television nerves and a not-quite-right pub lunch, but according to my Twitter feed, only three people noticed the glob of something indeterminate and pink looking in my fringe as I debated housing and racism with political heavyweights on BBC1 on Thursday night.
Someone else commented that I had great hair. Someone else said it was ‘two fingers to Edwina Currie’, possibly commenting on what my other half affectionately refers to as my ‘President’s wife look’. It’s not my fault, I have Greek Cypriot genes, and we are blessed with more hair follicles than most. All the better for catching regurgitated shrimp in, my dears.
Nobody commented on Tristram Hunt’s hair. Or Neil Hamilton’s. Or Chris Grayling’s lack thereof. Or even the perfectly-turned-out Kirstie Allsopp, who walked into the makeup room as I was being made to look vaguely human (and not like I’d been woken up by two toddlers and a tummyache all night the night before) – looking already made-up and not a hair out of place.
But anyway, I’m really not here to talk about my hair. Or my jacket. Or my girlfriend’s jumper I stole off the back of the chair in the kitchen, in its unfortunate shade of Liberal Democrat yellow on election night. Being a woman in the public eye, it seems all some people want to talk about is what you look like. I’m too fat to be poor, too thin to cook good food, too ugly to be on telly but too pretty to be a real Guardian columnist. The comments about appearance come thick and fast, and last night was no exception.
As I said last night, I’ve only got 4 GCSEs (four and a half, to be precise), and I made it onto Question Time. That obvious barometer of success that it is. I guess I was there because a few years ago I found myself unemployed and living on benefits – or I would have done, if they hadn’t been delayed and suspended several times over the 18 months that I was looking for work. I didn’t live, I survived, cooking meals for myself and my young son from the contents of my food bank parcel and around a tenner a week to supplement it. I started writing a blog about it, the most famous post being Hunger Hurts, written in a fit of frustration and desperation on my Nokia E72 in July 2012, which went viral around the world. I started to campaign against cuts and changes to benefits, to try to force the House Of Commons to debate foodbanks (a debate we achieved with a campaign spearheaded by the Daily Mirror in December), and now write for The Guardian. I guess I was there because I’m a bit ordinary, but I’m not afraid to say what I think, and say it loudly and clearly.
My fellow panellists were the deputy chairman of UKIP, Neil Hamilton, Kirstie Allsopp, Tristram Hunt (Labour MP), Chris Grayling (Conservative MP) and a Lib Dem MP whose name I forget. I lost count of the amount of party political point scoring and baying and hectoring that went on – everyone shouting over one another that UKIP would do this or Labour would do that and everyones ideas are better than everyone elses…
Who represented most British people on that panel last night? None of us. For the political representatives, well, only 36% of people even vote in this country – meaning that 64% of people were definitely not represented by any of the four political parties present – not including the smaller parties, like the Greens, who weren’t represented at all. For a panel that reflects its license payers, only a third of them should be politicos at all – and maybe a teacher, a bus driver, a journalist and a plumber should have made up the rest of the numbers.
Someone asked last night if voting should be made compulsory. Not at all. Voting is a right, and the right to vote should also constitute the right to abstain from voting if you feel that none of the candidates represent your views.
I’m often asked if I’ll stand for election. As a mother, in a household with two toddlers, the answer is ‘not likely any time soon’. I’m happy thrusting out petitions, rabble rousing, going on marches, writing newspaper articles, and investigating facts and figures and holding politicians to account. I also want to be able to put my children to bed, read them stories, stroke their soft blond heads, kiss them and tell them I love them. Maybe when they’re older, I shrug. Maybe I’ve seen enough of the smoke and mirrors and baying and shouting and lies that surrounds national politics to know that I might not want any part of it. People who are friendly to you in the Green Room, try to demolish you on national television, then invite you out for a beer afterwards? That way madness lies.
Jack Monroe for Glamour magazine, May 2014.