High profile MP Clare Short has revealed she turned down the opportunity to take part in a reality TV show where MPs learn what life is like for residents in deprived estates.
And she delivered a broadside against the Conservative MP who spent eight days living in Birmingham’s Newtown estate, in her Ladywood constituency – after he claimed residents had no idea who she was.
MP Tim Loughton (Con East Worthing & Shoreham) has been appearing in a Channel Four reality show Tower Block of Commons, in which MPs live with families in some of the most deprived inner-city estates in the country.
Upon learning where he would live, he exclaimed: “Birmingham – it has lots of tower blocks, that’s for sure, and it’s got no Conservative MPs.” He was apparently unaware that Sutton Coldfield, represented by Tory Andrew Mitchell, is part of the city.
Viewers saw him living in a two-bedroom flat as the guest of a 23-year-old single mother, who was already sharing the cramped accommodation with her six-month old baby and grandmother.
She refused to let him leave the flat dressed in his usual smart clothing, saying she feared for his safety, and taught him how to make a hand signal showing he lived in the B19 postcode area – so he would not be targeted by local gangs. In turn, he offered to take her shopping at Laura Ashley, prompting her to ask “Laura who?”
Writing about his experiences on the Channel Four website, Mr Loughton said: “Most depressing of all was talking to young gang members fighting meaningless postcode wars against other gang members, whose response to the prospect of becoming another gang war fatality by the age of 25 was ‘whatever will be will be’.”
But he also took a swipe at Clare Short, the local MP, saying: “It’s a good way of immersing yourself in a community living on one of the most deprived estates in inner city Birmingham, where no one can name their MP of 26 years’ standing let alone having met her.”
This appeared to be a reference to an encounter with a group of young people outside a shopping arcade, in which he asked them to name the local MP and they insisted there wasn’t one.
But Ms Short, the former Labour MP who now sits as an independent and has represented Ladywood since 1983, said she distrusted reality television after taking part in a show in 2004 which showed her grappling to teach children in a London secondary school.
Ms Short said: “I was asked to participate in the show, but I don’t believe in these types of reality shows. I did one once in a school, and having the cameras there made everyone behave differently.
“I don’t believe that what you see on television is the way things really are. They don’t paint a true picture.
“They asked me to meet Tim Loughton with very little notice. I had to ask them who he was. I said, ‘I’m afraid I’ve never heard of him’.”
The series has also shown Mr Loughton chatting with a masked gang member as he struggles to understand why gangs use violence, and delivering a self-penned rap at as the guest of a local radio station.
But even political opponents admit he has come across well in what could easily have been a cringe-worthy television performance, as he appears genuinely to care about the people he meets in Newtown.
The same is not true of all the other MPs taking part in the show, who include Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries (Con Mid Bedfordshire), Labour MP Austin Mitchell (Lab Great Grimsby) and Lib Dem Mark Oaten (Lib Dem Winchester).