Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Brown's ignorance shows why we need Commons reform

Watching the debate in the House of Commons yesterday about the Queen's Speech I found my jaw dropping at the rudeness of Gordon Brown. Watch this clip where David Cameron is trying to get Brown to respond to the question of why there was nothing about MPs' expenses in the Queen's Speech:

Twice Cameron offers to give way so that Brown can clarify the position and twice he declines. My problem however is not so much with him declining (although that does show that Cameron had him on the rack in my view) - it is in the way that he declined. He spent virtually the entire time Cameron was raising this issue talking to Harriet Harman. He seemed to be doing his best to be as rude as possible to Cameron by treating his point with such disdain that he made out he wasn't even listening.

I have blogged before about how I think the behaviour of MPs with all the heckling and jeering etc. needs to be much improved and the above sort of rudeness is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be stamped out (indeed it was one of my submissions to the POWER2010 campaign). The Speaker should insist on better behaviour with proper sanctions for MPs who transgress from the chamber. It would probably only have to happen a few times before the embarrassment it caused would ensure all MPs got the message. I am not trying to make a party political point here. The bad behaviour is endemic within the chamber and I have seen examples in the past from all sides.

Can you imagine attending a business meeting where this sort of thing happened? Imagine if you stood up to give a speech at a business conference and had to do so whilst enduring hecking, barracking and rude comments from those you were speaking to.

Coincidentally, Lynne Featherstone has done a blogpost today where she is talking about how the Commons would be better if it was more representative in terms of women and other currently under-represented groups and she has made a similar point to me in that post:

Certainly there are aspects of the way our political system works which typically appeal more to men or are more off-putting to women, but those are not aspects that are engraved in stone and always have to be that way. Take the bear-pit performances (and I use that word kindly - embarrassing shambles might often be more appropriate) of the PM / Leader of the Opposition exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions, with massed ranks of people sat behind each and shouting at each other. That sort of behaviour would be completely unacceptable in a work place - imagine running a meeting at work where people behaved like that. And there's no essential need for PMQs to be like that - look around at how other walks of life and other countries manage to have question times that are meaningful and dignified.

Lynne is spot on. It doesn't have to be like this and it needs to change.

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