YOU know how the House of Commons occasionally bursts at the seams with MPs whose egos rise into the air and bump each other like so many over-filled balloons. Well, yesterday there was a debate on violence against women and the place was almost empty.
MPs who presumably thought that this wasn’t a topic worth hanging around for, or perhaps turning up for, therefore missed a speech by the independent Scottish MP Michelle Thomson that was remarkable for its bravery and serenity.
She told colleagues, some of whom were moved to tears, that she was raped at the age of 14.
Thomson, who was elected as an SNP member but withdrew the party whip last year, said to parliamentary colleagues who could be bothered to turn up: “I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor.”
Speaking about the assault, she said: “As is common, it was by somebody who was known to me. He had offered to walk me home from a youth event and in those days everybody walked everywhere. It was quite common to do that.
“It was early evening. It wasn’t dark. I was wearing – I’m imagining, I’m guessing – jeans and a sweatshirt. He told me he wanted to show me something in a wooded area and at that point, I must admit, I was alarmed. I did have a warning bell – but I overrode that warning bell because I knew him and therefore there was a level of trust in place.”
Thomson said she felt “absolutely numbed” by what had happened, but she “bottled it all up” – “I didn’t tell my mother, I didn’t tell my father, I didn’t tell my friends and I didn’t tell the police.”
Her speech was a calm reckoning. In her sense, her grown self was addressing the confused and hurt child she had been. “I, of course, then detached from the child up to then I had been,” she said. “Although, in reality, at the age of 14 it was probably the start of my sexual awakening, at that time, remembering back, sex was something that men did to women and perhaps this incident reinforced that early belief.”
I saw Michelle Thomson’s speech to the Commons on the BBC news last night. That was presumably how most of her parliamentary colleagues saw it, too – that’s assuming they watch the news – as they weren’t there in person.
It was a speech remarkable for at least two reasons: the steady authority of the speaker; and the almost total lack of anyone to hear in person what she had to say.
A colleague or two shuffled along the empty green benches to console her or offer their sympathy. Mostly the place was empty.
The poor showing for this debate did not detract from what Thomson had to say, but only because the TV cameras were there to record her. As a piece of symbolism, it was perfect and shameful, suggesting that MPs gave a low priority to a debate on violence against women.
Hold a debate on Europe or immigration or whatever, and the place will be packed to the rafters with human bubbles of busybody pomposity.
On one level, politics is a soap opera with a familiar cast list – what Theresa really thinks about Bad Boris; and on another it is an everyday story of mostly good people trying to do the right thing.
The trouble is, the gap between the two sometimes seems unbridgeable.
Anyway, all praise to Michelle Thomson, a woman I had never heard of before but will not forget in a hurry.