The shortest time an MP has served in the UK parliament is zero days, a record set by Irish Parliamentary Party MP Thomas Higgins in 1906. Higgins died after the votes had been cast, but before the result was announced – meaning he was posthumously elected.
Mhairi Black, the Scottish Nationalist Party MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, has been an MP for longer than Higgins, but she too might cut short her stint in Westminster. The Sunday Post reports that Black ‘didn’t know’ whether she was going to stand for re-election in 2020. Apparently, she ‘hates’ being in Westminster because she finds it ‘depressing’.
Black is now 22, having started her career as an MP at the tender age of 20. She is the youngest MP to be elected for over 300 years. But it wasn’t drive or ambition that propelled her into politics. Describing her political career, Black says she ‘fell into university, fell into this and have fallen into most jobs I’ve had’. ‘It has been nearly two years [in Westminster] and I still hate the place’, she continued ‘I think you should only stand in politics if you think there is a need for you to be in it.’ Black’s main issue with Westminster seems to be largely superficial. ‘All the traditions are weird’, she says. ‘To get your seat you have to go in early in the morning and reserve it [with a green prayer card] at 8am.’
Clearly Black isn’t really that interested in politics. This is not to say that her criticism of Westminster’s silly rules and archaic traditions doesn’t hold some truth, but if the annoyance of saying ‘hear, hear’ rather than clapping (which she has complained about) is enough to make her quit, it’s hard to imagine she had much political conviction in the first place.
Black’s nonchalance about being an elected representative is symptomatic of a wider problem in the new cohort of MPs in parliament. In the age of parliament TV and social media, MPs now know that what they say in the House of Commons is not only for the ears of their fellow MPs, but for journalists and trigger-happy tweeters. Having Westminster debate open to the public is obviously a good thing. The problem is that many MPs now deliver their speeches not to parliament, or to the public, but to Twitter. They say things that they know will get them to ‘trend’; they pull stunts which serve no material political purpose other than to ‘raise awareness’ on social media or in the headlines – usually awareness about themselves.