GLAMOUR MAGAZINE: ON QUESTION TIME

“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.

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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.

Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

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25 thoughts on “GLAMOUR MAGAZINE: ON QUESTION TIME

  1. Heh, I noticed it too, but it didn’t make any difference to anything. Just out of interest, what would you like to see from political party representatives other than saying Labour would do this, UKIP would do that?

  2. I didn’t notice any pink hair decorations- but then I was listening carefully to what you said and trying to make sense of some rather ‘odd’ subtitles (on iPlayer) as I’m hard of hearing. And, as you point out, it is totally irrelevant anyway!
    I thought you looked right for the job you were doing. And you did a grand one!
    J x

  3. “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 glad you said that. I always feel that if I vote I lose my right to protest or to take direct action, because my vote signals my consent to the system – in effect to give away my political autonomy.

    Don’t read too much into people commenting on your appearance. It was simply the fact that you were, objectively, the only person on the panel worth looking at.

  4. Well done Jack, I thought you did an excellent job in a very difficult situation. The vote is a hard won privilege particularly for women. I do think that voting should be compulsory but there should be a ‘none of the above’ option on the ballot paper so that people’s views are better represented.

    • Here in Australia it is compulsory, in that its complusory to turn up and have your name checked of a list and accept a ballot paper that you then put in the box. Whether or not you fill it in correctly, or fill it in at all, or draw rude pictures all over it before it goes in the box is up to you!

  5. I thought you came across really well, despite the shrimp. Which I didn’t notice until you mentioned it.
    I think you did represent most British people to be honest, more can relate to you than anyone else on the panel and that is why the right wing press get their knickers in a twist over you.
    Keep up the good fight!

  6. More than one moment had me shaking my head, but one in particular did a gentleman asked a question it was the Labour chaps turn to reply, he started with something like we in Labour will listen to what people want then when the chap tried to come back with more opinion the Labour chap spoke straight over him, It was just Labour on this occasion they all do it, as a Labour member it made me cringe I wish they would all stop the posturing point scoring and really listen.

    Could you ever battle with that lot on a daily basis Jack? honestly I think your more effective on the outside so to speak x

  7. I didn’t notice! All I noticed were the excellent words you were speaking. Sorry to hear that you were nervous beforehand (and had eaten a dodgy lunch). You came across as very calm and collected on the show.

  8. I didn’t notice any shrimp and thought you looked great and came across as balanced, honest, articulate and knowledgeable. Great job Jack.
    Ps. Presumably your small boy has morphed into one of your two toddlers? I miss small boy.

  9. Jack, you say that all people want to talk about is what women in the public eye look like. Most people don’t notice at all, let alone care to broadcast their comments.

    Your writing is powerful, and that’s how you should be judged.

    Many people in this country talk about “them” (the unemployed, the low paid on benefits, the immigrants) without any real conception of who “them” are. Does the exception, as reported in the Daily Mail, prove the rule? For many people, it seems so. You help redress that balance.

    Ever since being a fan of the TV show “The Thick of It” I can’t help but see elements of that show in real life politics. It’s scary. I can’t talk for “the public” but many people I know have heard too many “initiatives” that cost a fortune and were soon forgotten, and the squirming politicians NEVER answering questions, keeping “on message”, and changing policies to catch the popular vote. Do they think we don’t notice? In my opinion that’s why many are disillusioned.

    I hope you stay on the sidelines, Jack, and keep telling it the way you see it.

  10. I usually agree with everything you write but I’m afraid I disagree on the voting issue. There are too many countries in the world where people die for the right to be able to vote and I think the right to vote is something we should never take for granted.

  11. I’ve not seen it yet, was at the Derren Brown show, so can’t comment on much here other than I like the way you fail to mention the name of the UKIP deputy. I agree with that sort of thing…

  12. Voting is definitely a right and a privilege, as is choosing to withhold one’s vote as a form of protest. However, I do think that voting should be made compulsory. At the moment, there is no way of distinguishing the voter who doesn’t vote because he can’t be bothered and the voter who consciously chooses to abstain as a form of protest; consequently they all get lumped together as ‘apathetic’. If voting was compulsory, those who didn’t want to vote as a form of protest could do so more ‘vocally’ by deliberately spoiling their ballot paper, which would hopefully lead to a clearer idea of which abstentions were in protest and which were purely apathetic (and hopefully might also prevent the rise of dubious fringe parties due to ‘protest’ votes). Compulsory voting does not necessarily mean compulsory voting for a listed candidate

    • “…At the moment, there is no way of distinguishing the voter who doesn’t vote because he can’t be bothered and the voter who consciously chooses to abstain as a form of protest; consequently they all get lumped together as ‘apathetic’…”

      True, the reasons for withholding one’s vote are a spectrum, not a single position. But so are the reasons for voting. A vote does not necessarily indicate absolute support for a candidate or for his/her party. It’s called ‘the law of diminishing representation’, see here:

      http://mairibheag.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/law-of-diminishing-representation.html

      Compulsory voting, however, may be taken to mean compulsory acceptance of a system. That’s unacceptable. Personally I would defy it.

  13. Mmmmmmm……!!! That Thursday in ‘Question’.., I was intruduced to someone new and perhaps to something new . Like most first time experiences , I was rewarded with such a surge and an inspirational feeling that awakened an appetite for knowledge and investigation . This writing is indeed a result of that . I am connected to your cause and concerns both by experience and motivation. I am also new to this medium of communication however am neither ignorant nor illiterate . Thank you Jack Monroe . In these times of uncertainties , your energy is indeed ” Food for Thought ” and also for Hungary belies . Keep up the good work.

  14. No, no one would comment on the man’s hair…Donald Trump with his combover or any of our US illustrious congressmen with their toupes or men’s hair dye. Just another example of a male dominated world where women are condescended to. From across the “pond”, this grandmother applauds your efforts to put action behind your convictions. Your children are lucky to have you as a role model.

  15. The minute you step into politics, is the very minute you lose your voice on things that matter to yourself. You become “one of them”, another politico who tows the party line, has hidden agendas. I’m not saying you personally would, but the assumption by the public would be just that.

    The position you’re in right now is far more advantageous to achieve your goals. All parties will seek your approval in the mainstream and as a result you’ll be far more influential than being in a political party. Just remember, no-one can silence you right now, but in the world of party politics, you’d be silenced if your views didn’t fit in with the agenda of the party you represent.

  16. I didn’t see the tv program you refer to, but reading your article I can see you are intelligent ,articulated and able to convey the things that matter to most people. Besides your compassion and honesty make you the ideal watch dog. Keep going Jack!

  17. There will always be the superficial people who care more about appearance than what is inside. Some of them even make it into positions of power! Just carry on living your life the way you care about Jack – there are more of us out there who agree with you than the ones who would put you down. Just ‘cos we aren’t as vocal as the attention seekers doesn’t mean we’re not right behind you. Already saving up for the next book!

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