We often hear media pundits talking about the advantages of public figures having what they refer to as “Hinterland”. Of having a real working life before and outside of politics. One definition of hinterland is “An area lying beyond what is visible or known: the strange hinterland where life begins and ends”.
For me it is that indefinable yet unmistakable quality that someone has when they have lived life properly, lived or worked in different places and fields and among real people with real lives. Found a few paths less travelled and emerged as their own person.
And in this last week this has been brought into sharp relief but not in the way I would have expected.
Two “politicians” have demonstrated just how little they have learned from their hinterland and one demonstrated how little it matters, if you have good instincts.
First Ukip’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall was branded “misogynistic” after claiming in a blog for The Huffington Post UK that Nicola Sturgeon should be thrown in front of a horse.
The MEP hit out at SNP plans to vote on changes to the foxhunting ban which only affect England and Wales and wrote “Tuesday is Emmeline Pankhurst Day, and whilst I am not going to throw myself in front of a horse to make my point about British democracy on this occasion, this is a vitally important constitutional matter and perhaps we should throw Sturgeon in front of a hunt horse as part of the commemorations.”.
Hinterland; between his education and going into politics, Nuttall lived and worked in Barcelona before returning to Merseyside to lecture on history at Hugh Baird College and then at Liverpool Hope University.
Then the biggest joke in UK politics Nigel Farage compared the SNP to the Nazi party during a speech in the USA, referring to Nicola Sturgeon as “that appalling woman” and said Ukip’s failure at the election was because David Cameron promoted fear of the SNP among the electorate to win votes for the Tories in England.
According to reports on the Breitbart News website, he said: “That appalling woman” referring to the First Minister, “she represents a party that are nationalists and socialists at the same time… did I really say that? Well to hell with it, it’s true”.
Hinterland: on leaving school in 1982, he decided not to go to university, but to work in the City, and apparently traded commodities at the London Metal Exchange.
Lots of hinterland but no decency, respect or judgement.
The third politician who caught my eye has little of what we would call “hinterland”. Having just graduated, got her first “real job” and her work career seems to have been part time in a local chippy.
But for all of that Mhairi Black’s maiden speech in the House demonstrated the sense of decency, compassion and judgement far beyond the two numpties from ukip.
Rarely have I seen a maiden speech which spoke so clearly of understanding her constituents and their problems. Identified the main causes of them and showed the way to build a constructive and effective opposition to this most ideologically driven of Governments.
In her address, Black attacked David Cameron’s administration for being the most “uncaring, uncompromising and out of touch governments that the UK has seen since Thatcher”.
She also criticised George Osborne’s welfare cuts, noting “My housing [in London] is subsidised by the state … but in this budget the chancellor abolished any housing benefit for anyone under the age of 21,” she said. “We are now in the ridiculous situation whereby, because I am an MP, not only am I the youngest, but I am also the only 20-year-old in the whole of the UK who the chancellor is prepared to help with housing.”
Black went on to make a direct plea to Labour colleagues not to vote for the Government’s planned cuts to tax credits. A plea which was to fall on the deaf ears of their current leadership.
“The SNP did not triumph on a wave of nationalism; in fact nationalism has nothing to do with what happened in Scotland. We triumphed on a wave of hope – hope that there is something better than the Thatcherite neoliberal policies that come from this chamber.” If I was being pedantic I would argue it is Nationalism which fuelled that wave of hope, but that aside, Mhairi’s speech demonstrated that it is perhaps not a “hinterland” which is necessary after all. Perhaps what is required is much more of a sense of purpose. We saw in Mhairi’s speech and in contribution after contribution from the SNP benches that we have a group of people who actually know why they are in politics, why they stood for Parliament and what they want to do with any levers of power they can lay their hands on.
Mhairi’s speech has been lauded, and rightly so, on all sides except from Labour in Scotland and BBC Scotland. Many have said that it demonstrates the need for more young people or more women etc selecting their own preference groups and I am doing the same. It demonstrates the need for more people who know about politics but also their own people. Who know political theory but also the realities in the streets and work places. Who know “that strange hinterland where life begins and ends”.