Nadia Whittome has faced criticism over her comments about inadequate PPE for care workers, leading to Lark Hill Retirement Village telling the Nottingham East MP that her services were no longer required. As she faces a backlash across social media and the wider press, Ashley Carter looks back at the recent interview Whittome gave to LeftLion, and explores the reasoning behind the care home’s decision to fire her…
For all of the power, responsibility and prestige that may come with the role, I don’t envy the life of an MP. Collectively, we’re a nation waiting to lambast them for anything and everything they do that’s even remotely out of line. It’s understandable to constantly assess our elected representatives to an extent, as we’ve had our fingers burnt so many times in the past, from Cambridge Analytica to expenses and everything in between. But it’s also the reason that politicians are so-often afraid to actually say or do anything. Milquetoast mediocrity is celebrated, leading to a generation of emotionless, passionless MPs who seemingly don’t stand for much at all. If you’re not saying anything, you’re not doing anything wrong.
Then comes Nadia Whittome – a 24-year-old woman from a working-class Nottingham background who not only becomes Britain’s youngest MP during the last election, but also made the decision to donate more than half of her Westminster salary to charity in order to take home a realistic ‘living wage’. Then, once the COVID-19 crisis struck, she returned to care work at the Lark Hill Retirement Village in an act of solidarity to her previous employers, donating all of her pay from the job to charity.
But after speaking out about the widely publicised lack of PPE, she was told that her services were no longer required, with ExtraCare, the organisation who run the Clifton site, accusing her of “spreading misinformation.”
This came after a number of interviews in which the Nottingham East MP lambasted what she saw as a slow Government response to the health crisis, as well as the lack of PPE for care workers. Talking to LeftLion last week, she said: “We’ve got masks, but they’re surgical masks, which are not the right type, and we can only use one of those a day. That means they have to last us between 5-15 hours, depending on how long we are on a shift for. And we’ve got visors, but they’re homemade – a member of the public donated them. We’ve also got plastic aprons and gloves, which on their own don’t amount to adequate PPE.”
The fallout was multi-faceted, with some praising her as a whistleblower, and others criticizing her for political point-scoring. But the point is: as a Labour MP, as well as a voluntary frontline worker, just what exactly was she meant to do?
The social media response has also raised wider issues surrounding the increasingly hostile environment for female MPs
Lark Hill have since commented that they have over three months of personal protective equipment but, as Whittome herself tweeted yesterday, this wasn’t the case when ExtraCare repeatedly put out urgent appeals for PPE over Twitter last month. Also, as a Labour MP, it’s her job to challenge the Government whenever and however she deems it appropriate and, in the week when the UK reported the highest COVID-19 death rates in Europe, voices like hers are more important than ever.
A spokesperson for ExtraCare said, “Reports that we have a PPE shortage are inaccurate and have caused concern amongst our residents – we have had to invest a significant amount of staff time reassuring our residents as a result,” adding, “This has occurred during a critical period when all of our resources have to be focused on protecting our residents’ safety and welfare.” It’s unclear how Whittome’s comments contradict ExtraCare’s own public appeals for PPE, or the widespread media coverage of the issue in general.
The social media response has also raised wider issues surrounding the increasingly hostile environment for female MPs, another issue Whittome discussed with us last week. The issue was further emphasised this week when Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock drew criticism for telling Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan, a frontline worker and MP for Tooting, to watch her tone after she called on him to do more for NHS staff. I’m disinclined to share the specific replies here, but some of the responses to Whittome’s various tweets about the fallout from her comments have been reprehensible.
While I’m not advocating blind obedience along party lines, I’ve grown endlessly frustrated at seeing voices of dissent dismissed and discredited for threatening the status quo
I’ve been lucky enough to interview a lot of people during my career, from actors to athletes, and activists and politicians. And while I’m by no means an expert, I like to think that I’ve picked up an ear for sincerity along the way. We spoke for over an hour and, as well as sounding absolutely exhausted having worked a night shift the previous evening, Whittome was incredibly sincere about the issues frontline workers were facing, and the unnecessary deaths they were causing. You can call me naïve, but I’m of the generation that got badly burnt by Liberal Democrats in my first General Election in 2010, and am as reluctant to believe politicians as the rest of you. You can tell when people are point scoring, and you can tell when people actually care. In my opinion, Nottingham East is fortunate enough to have the latter representing their interests. If people aren’t content with the UK having the highest death rate in Europe, then voices with real-life frontline experience like hers need to stop being discredited and shut down.
As well as the criticism, there have also been many messages of solidarity for the Nottingham East MP, including from Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who tweeted his support for Whittome, and other care workers, who are being threatened from speaking out.
As well as re-emphasising she “only had one facemask a day, and only had visors homemade or donated by the public” on Twitter last night, Whittome also announced that her office would be collecting evidence on how care workers are undervalued, underpaid and fear speaking out due to precarious employment status. If you’re a care worker who has faced pressure, threats or disciplinary action for speaking out about PPE, you can contact her office in confidence at [email protected]
While I’m not advocating blind obedience along party lines, I’ve grown endlessly frustrated at seeing voices of dissent dismissed and discredited for threatening the status quo. COVID-19 doesn’t need politicising, because like it or not, it’s already a political issue, and was the moment it began. We incessantly scream out for an end to out of touch politicians, and clamour for true representation – not in the form of insincerely pretending to like football or new music – but in terms of understanding and experiencing the hardships many of us face in life. Nadia Whittome is an MP that backs up what she says with action, spoke out when she saw an issue, and has been lambasted as a result. You can’t have it both ways.