Back in 1979, I was given a treat by a newly-elected MP, when I went to the House of Commons for a tour, and also watched Prime Minister’s Question Time, with the new PM, Margaret Thatcher trading blows with the then Leader of the Opposition, Jim Callaghan. Radio broadcasting from the Commons had started four years earlier but seeing this circus for the first time was astonishing, and the behaviour (often sexist) of a lot of the members left a great deal to be desired. 36 years on and very little has changed, despite the presence of TV cameras in the chamber. The recent BBC documentary Inside the Commons revealed just what a wretched place it is and how for a major democracy, it as an institution both as a building and a body that is just not fit for purpose.
Put aside the waste of time and cat-calling that is PM’s Question Time, but we have archaic practices all over the place and MPs that are just happy to tow a party line with little or no principle, and we can easily see through this excellent series how disconnected the folk of Westminster are with ordinary people. Anybody watching this fascinating insight would despair at the party political games that are played and the frustration of those MPs from all shades of opinion who are prepared to stand up for what they believe in, but are stopped at every turn. No wonder that some of the “old guard” actually wanted the series blocked from doing any filming as it has exposed what I believe is an affront to democracy.
It’s all well and good having the political leaders pontificating on about the great traditions of the Commons, but it just comes over as an out of date club for gentlemen. No wonder we get so few women MPs with the boorish behaviour, and crucially a programme like this exposes many reasons why it is time for a change. Even a go-ahead speaker like John Bercow is finding it difficult to sort the mess out, because the House of Commons club will never vote for measures that bring it into the 21st century. How about a chamber that every MP can physically sit in and electronic voting?
It is of little wonder with two months to go before the General Election that so many voters are totally disillusioned with the status quo and the arrogance of the political establishment of not wanting to do anything about it. The perfect example is the House of Lords. People may huff and puff like the Big Bad Wolf, but it is still there as an undemocratic cabal because it suits people with their own agendas for it to continue as it is. So when the established political parties are left scratching their heads as to why UKIP, the Greens, and the Scottish National Party are doing so well, their short-sightedness in not seeing what one of the reasons may be, is just stunning!