Nadia Whittome: ‘Parliament does strange things to you’

I’ve always seemed older than my age. As a child I was quiet and reserved, but also serious and outspoken. Life wasn’t always pleasant, but you remember the happy bits. We’ve always been a tight-knit, motley crew: Mum, my older brother and me. We found ways to laugh through anything.

There often wasn’t much money around. Mum stopped working when I was 12, for health reasons. She shielded me from our struggles with endless resourcefulness. When I was older I understood the sacrifices she made: at times going hungry to make sure I’d eaten.

Dancing is my happy place; an act of self-preservation. As a teenager I’d go out to clubs and stay all night, not for drink or drugs, but to move with total freedom. Mum would pick me up and take me home, sober and exhausted. It still takes me somewhere else. Play me Freed from Desire and I’ll get lost in the music.

I can’t remember my 2019 acceptance speech. I puked right before I made it. I’d been ill all week in the run-up to election day. I could barely stand; my friends had to dress me. We went to the count at 1am. When the results came in, I felt so proud to represent my community. Then I threw up again.

Parliament does strange things to you. It’s set up to dazzle. You’re made to feel so special from day one; encouraged to forget that it’s people who elected you. I’ve worked as a carer and went back during Covid – so many MPs and their egos wouldn’t last a day without the self-aggrandising and deference.

I give away all that I earn above the average salary. I’m in Parliament to represent workers – why should I earn so much more than them? Instead I put that money to good use, donating to strike funds and causes locally.

The death of David Amess has shocked me. I’m devastated for his family and colleagues, and the community he loved. When I was finding my feet after being elected, he was supportive and patient; after I took a leave of absence for my mental health, he welcomed me back with kindness and care. We all must make sure those who were present in that horrific moment continue to be supported.

Inaction on the climate crisis petrifies me. We’re already seeing the consequences. My generation has been lumbered with an economy that is letting corporations destroy our planet. We need to change course urgently: a Green New Deal is just the start of it. Sitting in the chamber and seeing how little is being done makes me determined to fight harder for our future.

Eyebrows are the coat hangers of the face. They’re the first thing I notice. I started off life with just the one, so I taught myself to make two perfectly. I do them for friends and family now. It’s intimate and loving. When I speak in a college or school, my eyebrow game comes up regularly.

I’m not always treated with respect, but that’s what I expected. I didn’t ask permission to enter politics, and not everyone is pleased about it. There’s definitely unpleasantness. I’m patronised and confused for other women of colour. Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Queer is how I describe myself, although I’ve no problem with the label bisexual. My queerness makes me feel part of a big family, and is unconstrained by being binary. There’s a politics to it, too, a sense of solidarity.

Despair isn’t going to save us, I have to stay positive. All we have on our side is hope and action. To be a socialist is to be an optimist, you believe in a better alternative. I’ve got no time for defeatism; there’s simply too much to get on with.

To support the St Ann’s Advice Centre in Nottingham, visit stannsadvice.org.uk


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