09:07, December 01 69 0 theguardian.com

2017-12-01 09:07:02
We MPs do our best – I can sympathise with Tulip Siddiq’s lapse of judgment

With the long hours, the public nature of the job and the advent of online abuse, MPs can sometimes lose their rag. Like many people, I was taken aback to see the skirmish on Channel 4 news this week in which my friend and colleague Tulip Siddiq did just that with a journalist. It was an unedifying spectacle. She recognises that too, and has apologised. But I can understand how it happened too.

As an MP you’re expected to be an expert on everything. Old and new media voraciously seek stories. Jeremy Corbyn’s interview with GQ serves as a reminder that top politicians employ media handlers – the Labour leader apparently vetoed Alastair Campbell as his interviewer, and his communications director Seumas Milne turned up to the photo shoot. Those belonging to the lower orders don’t have that luxury and are approached by broadcasters direct with no screening, even though the public reaction is often “Why does the Labour party put these people up for these appearances?”

The line of questioning from Channel 4 – on a Bangladeshi prisoner – might seem innocuous enough but it’s everyone’s nightmare to be ambushed in an interview when you expected questions about X only to get tripped up on Y.

For any MP, life is a balancing act. There are the demands of your constituents and party – which might not always be in perfect alignment – not to mention lobbyists bending your ear. Add to that the dimension of your roots, including religion and nationhood, and things get even more tangled.

Like Tulip, I’m a British-born MP of Bangladeshi origin, representing a seat where that group is a small minority. Even so, the expectation is that I should represent the entire Bangladeshi diaspora – no pressure there then. This week EDL founder Tommy Robinson tweeted linking me to money distributed to Bangladeshi jihadists (I didn’t totally understand the point, but then I don’t believe he’s big on logic or fact-checking).

There are genuine issues with the functioning of democracy in Bangladesh. I am more acutely aware of them than ever, having been there on a parliamentary delegation earlier this year. From my own circle I know of people opposed to the government who are languishing in jail. I have raised concerns in parliament about secular bloggers getting hacked to death and dissidents being disappeared.

However, I haven’t made this a big part of my job. If I did, I can imagine getting sucked further and further in, when I have a high volume of casework in my constituency: my office recently received its 20,000th recorded enquiry. We are in the midst of a spate of urgent evictions and deportations, and when universal credit is rolled out this spring advice surgery queues are likely to lengthen.

Human rights in Bangladesh is a big extra item for anyone’s agenda. It’s Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office who ought to be addressing these issues through the correct channels, where interactions are formally minuted by the FCO, not backbench MPs. International negotiations are complex, and delicate matters that cannot simply be resolved on the hoof – and certainly not staring down the barrel of a camera lens.

Rupa Huq is Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton