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Melissa Todd on being the 'commonest person' in the House of Commons

In another column for KentOnline, Broadstairs writer and dominatrix Melissa Todd reveals how she had dinner in Westminster and reveals she's actually a politics nerd...

I went for dinner at the House of Commons last week. My esteemed companion and I were told to arrive half-an-hour early to clear the airport-style security, but in fact we were the only peasants trying to access the place and zipped through on a wink.

It was eerie, standing in a spot I’d seen so often on telly, surrounded by statues of the great, good and Margaret Thatcher, and armfuls of armed police.

Melissa Todd at the House of Commons
Melissa Todd at the House of Commons

I’m too old to care about how deeply uncool I seem and told everyone I met how very, very excited I was. I’m a bit of a squeeing nerd for politics.

“Have you been here before? I came here once for my A-levels, 30 years ago now! Went to PMQs. Watched John Major do his thing. But this is way more exciting, if you can believe it! Have you been here before?”

“Many, many times”, my dining companions said, and glided away as if I were radioactive. At last I met a banker who seemed to find my gawky gauche self tolerable, and indulged my enthusiasm paternally.

“If you get lost”, he told me, “check the carpet. Red for Lords, green for Commons.” I checked. Green. Miles of Commons. And you could tell I was the commonest person at the Commons, because I was dressed the smartest: dead giveaway. Well, I was dead excited, like I said, and overawed, so I’d brushed down my best frock.

I was there for a meeting of the European Atlantic Group, which was created in 1954 to foster the political relationship between Europe and North America, and stimulate debate and thought around the problems that face all nations, be they economic, social or political.

Our host, David Selves, dapper and energetic, bounced over to introduce himself and the evening. Tonight, other than canapés, I could look forward to a Zoom grilling of two US politicians, one Republican, one Democrat, about the Ohio primary, and whether an endorsement by Trump was still valuable, given the whole awks riot/lying/idiocy with which he’s now associated.

Melissa Todd in Westminster Hall
Melissa Todd in Westminster Hall

Well, my ignorance of US politics is frankly fathomless, and I imagined I’d spend an hour daydreaming while the boys talked over my head. In fact, I was gripped.

We discussed topics that were universally applicable, and not only to the political sphere. How we are living in a post-truth era, where facts are denied, and there is open hostility to nuanced, reasoned debate; where people instead retreat to a fantasy land of their own making, since the outside world is seen to represent an existential threat.

Where Putin can deny he is bombing Ukranian civilians, and his people will believe him; where Johnson can refuse to discuss his parties until the report emerges, at which point he will claim the time has long past when people care. Where women claim the gendering of toilets and their users represents the greatest imaginable threat to their safety, even as some US states refuse to rule out banning contraception.

We agreed that democracy seems suddenly in need of defence, because people from all over the world are increasingly dissatisfied with their lot, and dissatisfaction fuels extremism. How the young are increasingly intolerant, and entrenched in their own views, becoming furious when challenged: insistent that they are right, therefore you are wrong, rather than, say, you and I are different, or perhaps that the matter needs more research and thought.

We’ve always used myths to make sense of the world. Human beings have used fictions to encourage cooperation since they evolved. In a sense this has always been a post-truth universe; humans are post-truth creatures.

Melissa Todd
Melissa Todd

A lie told with good intent, to people who understand metaphor and nuance, can often be more revealing than the truth. But somewhere along the way too many of us have lost our good-natured tolerance for a good yarn.

I left giddy with new ideas and determined to take more notice of the world around me.

It’s easy to lose track of what matters in among the daily noise and sweat. But it’s the first duty of citizens of a democratic nation to defend that democracy.

Like old statuesque Churchill said, it’s the worst possible form of government, except for all the others.

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