For those of you who don’t know me personally, let me introduce myself – I’m Lizzy and I’m a bit political. In fact, I’m ‘that person’ who likes to have BBC Parliament on in the background when my housemates aren’t around. I love being involved in politics, I’ll freely admit that I find it hard to not relate just about anything back to it and I’m always up for a debate (just don’t ask me about the rise of UKIP after 2-for-1 cocktails in Dusk). What irks me though, what really makes me feel angry, is when I see the debacle of the House of Commons debates that go on sometimes, and I think that the Speaker, Rt Hon John Bercow MP, is finally talking some sense into British politics.
Bercow told the BBC that “it was worrying that members from both sides of the House ‘with a lot to contribute’ were put off attending the weekly session.” The reason? Well, it it’s clear to anyone who does the washing up to the sound of PMQs or likes live-tweeting budget announcements – the rowdy debacle that British politicians call ‘a debate’. It’s plain to see that the way in which British politicians conduct themselves on television is pretty unruly at times of great interest. The problem is that with greater access to democracy, politicians aren’t thinking about the consequences this has upon the British people who can see their conduct during debates – as well as repelling some MPs from even turning up to these sessions.
I know that I’ve found it hard to keep my cool sometimes in a political debate. It’s difficult to hear sit and listen to somebody sell you an idea you fundamentally disagree with, or be told that something you’re really passionate about isn’t right. I’ve had many a heated discussion with fellow political societies on campus whilst on panels or even just on nights out, so I can fully understand why debates between MPs get so heated; there’s hundreds of important people sitting in one room all thinking the same thing – that they’re right. What I mean is that arguments (especially in the political sphere) are inevitable, what I hate though is the ridiculous extremes of Parliamentary debate that Bercow has rightly compared to as “yobbery and public school twittishness”.
Sometimes it’s funny to hear Bercow tell an MP to “take up yoga” instead of getting het up during budget announcements or tell Mr Gove to “write lines” for being too excitable during PMQs. What shouldn’t be forgotten however is the underlying message that this loud, rowdy style of politics sends out.
In a digital age where anyone with a Freeview TV or Internet access can see how the cherished system of democracy really works in Britain, perhaps MPs need to think about reigning in their tempers a little more and taking a little of their traditional witticism out of their retorts. What does jeering “here here” and shouting en masse to a lone person standing up and expressing their opinion say to the aspiring young person watching an online streaming of a debate they care about? What does it say to older generations worrying about life in the next few decades when all they see on TV is a clever comeback to score some laughter in the back benches? Politicians need to start realising that they’re scrutinised now more than ever before – what sort of message do they want to send to the watching world?
Bercow mentions in his interview to the BBC that he worries female MPs are perturbed by the raucous nature of PMQ debates. Labour MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion said that “braying and screaming” make it feel harder to hold the government to account. As someone used to defending my political party and my own personal views, I’m not so sure the fact that I’m a woman would really come into whether I’d like the style of debate or not (sorry Mr Speaker) but I’m also not used to being screamed at by hundreds of people on live TV and I think a lot of less-seasoned politicians would find current debate styles off-putting, intimidating and disheartening to say the least.
I want to see change in Westminster in the way politicians approach a debate. I believe politics is fuelled by passion and there’s no denying the fact that a Parliamentary debate isn’t the same as your average workplace disagreement – speaking with vigour and a sense of energy is what every MP should aim for. Westminster and politicians need to prove they’re changing for the better, more equal and diverse, but they can’t do that unless they shake off the image of politics being a testosterone-fuelled-boys-club by making debate more accessible and less of a tradition based jeering circus.