THE MP for Nottingham East, 24-year-old Nadia Whittome – the Baby of the House – announced this week that she has been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) following online death threats, racist abuse and incessant trolling. She has assured constituents that her ‘fantastic staff team’ will continue to man her office while she takes sick leave, and hopes that by speaking openly about her mental health she can ‘play a small role in creating greater acceptance’ about the issue.
Whittome was privately educated until the age of 11 then, following secondary education at an academy school, took an access course and read law at Nottingham for two years, dropping out ‘for financial reasons’. Her work experience prior to election was as a hate crime project worker and a carer. She unsuccessfully contested a local council seat, then in late October 2019 was selected as the Labour candidate for Nottingham East. The following day the general election was called, and she took the seat, previously held by Chris Leslie who defected from Labour to Change UK, with a 17,000 majority.
During her time in office she has been no stranger to controversy. She has supported Palestinian rights, the US Democratic ‘Squad’, backed Black Lives Matter, celebrated the tearing down of the Colston statue, defended gay and trans rights and frequently attacked Tory austerity. Following the knighting of Iain Duncan Smith, she tweeted she was ‘thinking of the millions of people whose loved ones have been killed by his policies’. She rejected criticism of her age and inexperience, citing Jacob Rees-Mogg who, at 50, had ‘never changed a nappy’. She refused to take home more than £35,000 of her salary, citing low pay among firemen and care workers, and during the Covid pandemic she volunteered in a care home. Just over four months after being elected she was appointed PPS to Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary for Health and Social Care, but was later sacked for voting against the Overseas Operations Bill.
When she was elected, she stated: ‘I will work to tackle the vast inequality people face. The next five years are about protecting local services, doing what we can to protect our right (sic) and to tackle inequality.’ This has evidently proved to be an overwhelming task.
PTSD is a very serious matter. It can develop after exposure to a traumatic event, violence or other threats in a person’s life. Symptoms may include mental and physical distress, with a heightened risk of suicide or self-harm. It is not unusual to have symptoms after any traumatic event, but these must persist to a sufficient degree (ie causing dysfunction in life or clinical levels of stress) for longer than one month to be classified as PTSD. Persisting for less than one month is generally described as an acute stress disorder.
Persons at risk may include combat military personnel, victims of natural disasters, concentration camp survivors and victims of violent crime – for women, that often means rape. Now we have to include exposure to pressures associated with the Palace of Westminster. It can also be very difficult to diagnose accurately, as a result of the subjective nature of the diagnostic criteria, the over- or under-reporting of these, and overlap with other mental health issues. Recovery can be prolonged.
Guido Fawkes has pointed out that until the 1990s, the Labour benches tended to be filled with union veterans, public-sector professionals or lawyers, while on the Tory side sat captains of industry, City grandees, colonels, squires, and plenty of lawyers – in other words, people who had undergone a rigorous apprenticeship for their parliamentary duties. The recent appearance of women in their 20s (Black, Swinson, now Whittome) is not per se guaranteed success. According to Guido, ‘the human mind can be fragile and politics is a contact sport, which social media makes feel like a 24/7 activity’ – even, it should be added, during the very prolonged era of lockdown.
But the House is hardly the trenches of World War I or a Siberian gulag. Whittome’s sick leave will, one hopes, bring home to the powers-that-be who select and groom potential Parliamentary candidates that they bear a heavy responsibility – towards the constituency, the national and local parties, indeed the entire governance of the UK, as well as to the aspiring individual. It is reckless, dangerous, potentially even life-threatening, to adopt the fashionable catch-all that ‘Everyone is Awesome’ while failing to vet in a thorough and responsible way.
Nadia Whittome ticks all the woke boxes for a Labour selection committee – young, female, BAME background, good-looking, outspoken and ideologically radical. Unfortunately the boxes the selectors missed out were the ones that really matter – political nous, professional experience and a very thick skin.