Home for the Holidays: A Commons (and Lords) Family Christmas
No 10 Downing Street, 23 December 2020 | Alamy
“No politics at the dinner table!” It is a plea heard by many a politico as families gather for their Christmas feasts. But in some households, obeying may be harder than in others. Georgina Bailey reports
Politics has long been a family affair (even without a host of hereditary peers in the Lords). The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, says his earliest experiences of canvassing were “child labour,” traipsing around Ribble Valley at aged seven for his father, then-hopeful Labour MP Doug. While the two never overlapped on the Commons benches (Doug was finally elected in 1979 with Hoyle Jr joining as his father retired in 1997), Hoyle Sr now sits in the House of Lords as a Labour peer.
They’re not the only parent-child duo to be crossing Central Lobby to swap presents this Christmas; environment minister Victoria Prentis’ father is Lord Boswell of Aynho, formerly the Honourable Member for Daventry, while Labour’s Kate Osamor MP was joined by her mother Martha in Parliament when the latter was given a peerage in 2018.
There are also at least two uncles in Parliament slipping their nephews and nieces a nip of brandy while their parents aren’t looking – Lord Tugendhat and his nephew, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom, and Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose niece is 2019 intake up-and-comer Theo Clarke.
They say no one knows how to irritate quite like a sibling. Let’s hope, in the spirit of Christmas, there will be plenty of forgiveness too. It might be needed.
Boris Johnson and his younger brother Jo in 2012 (Alamy)
Jo Johnson (formerly MP for Orpington), served in older brother Boris’ cabinet for just six weeks before resigning in September 2019 saying he was “torn between family and national interest”. After standing down at the general election two months later, he was rewarded with a seat in the Lords last year. Meanwhile, the brothers Benn are no strangers to comparisons to their late father, Tony; Hilary (in the Commons) is often accused by the Labour left of being too centrist, while the third Viscount Stansgate (also known as Stephen) was recently elected to sit as a hereditary peer in the Lords, something their father famously disavowed. No need to worry though, discussions of political differences over eggnog are nothing new to the Benn clan; the brothers are the grandsons and great-grandsons of three Liberal MPs.
It’s not just brothers either: the Eagle twins, Maria and Angela, have more than 53 years experience on the green benches and 14 in government between them, while shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves may have to fend off requests for more prisons funding in a hypothetical Labour government from the shadow justice minister, her younger sister Ellie (both pictured at Labour Party Conference 2021) – who also happens to be married to chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party John Cryer, himself the son of two former Labour MPs.
Harriet Harman with her husband Jack Dromey and their son Harry, 1983 (Alamy)
One in five Brits meet their spouses through work, so perhaps it is surprising more MPs haven’t followed in the Cryer-Reeves’ footsteps. Mother of the House Harriet Harman met her husband, Birmingham Erdington’s Jack Dromey, on a picket line, marrying shortly before her election in 1982. Dromey, the former Labour Party treasurer didn’t join her in the Commons until 2010. Their offices nestle next to one another in Portcullis House. More recently joined in wedded bliss are Conservatives Philip Davies and Esther McVey, who shared an office ahead of their marriage last September, and government whip Andrea Jenkyns and MP for Filton Bradley and Stoke, Jack Lopresti. With Jenkyns revealing in The House earlier this year that their four-year-old son Clifford had worked out how to order himself presents using their Alexa, it may be a bountiful Christmas in the Lopresti-Jenkyns household this year.
With Christmas the season of peace and goodwill among men, what of love across the chambers?
Members of the Lords won’t escape the mistletoe either – happy couple Alice and Roy Kennedy are otherwise known as Baroness Kennedy of Cradley, former deputy general secretary of the Labour Party, and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, opposition chief whip.
With Christmas the season of peace and goodwill among men, what of love across the chambers? Baroness Chapman, close ally of Keir Starmer, will be celebrating with her husband Nick Smith either at their London home in Islington or his Blaenau Gwent constituency, while Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Evans is married to the 2019 intake’s James Wild. A cross-party political dynasty surrounds Conservative Peter Bottomley, Father of the House of Commons, and his wife Virginia, formerly Tory MP for South West Surrey, a member of the Upper Chamber since 2005. Peter is the uncle of former Labour minister Kitty Ussher while Baroness Bottomley is the cousin of recently-retired Labour Lord Hunt of Chesterton, whose son is former MP Tristram Hunt.
Love Actually, 2003: The Prime Minister (Hugh Grant), Natalie's Octopus Brother (Billy Campbell) and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) travel to the school nativity (Alamy)
Politics and holiday movies rarely overlap in any meaningful way, but there is one Christmas classic that founder of Women2Win Baroness Anne Jenkin and her MP husband Bernard won’t be watching this recess. While he says rumours of him “stealing” Anne from filmmaker Richard Curtis have been “hopelessly exaggerated,” it is true that the unlikeable Bernard character in every Curtis film is named for Mr Jenkin. In Love Actually, it is Emma Thompson’s character’s “horrible son Bernard,” nephew of Hugh Grant’s lovestruck prime minister, who gets the privilege. No confirmation yet on whether the chair of the Commons Liaison Committee has ever dressed up as the Nativity octopus…
Whoever you’re spending the festive season with, whether it be family, friend, political foe, or all three, The House wishes you a very merry Christmas.
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