House of Commons


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The House of Commons- A pit of partisan jeering?
The House of Commons has a bad public image -- derided by voters and the media alike for being a rowdy
talking-shop full of MPs primarily concerned with advancing their careers. The mud has stuck, notably
following the scandal about the widespread abuse of parliamentary expenses, which erupted in spring 2009
and has led to the imprisonment of several former MPs.
According to the latest 2011 version of the annual Audit of Political Engagement, satisfaction has fallen to
27%. Just one in three people agreed that Parliament is 'working for you and me', a drop from 38% to 30% in
a year. Nearly half (46%) thought MPs should be spending their time representing the views of local people in
the House of Commons, while just 10% believed they were doing so. What is really worrying is the decline in
the proportion believing that Parliament matters. According to the 2011 audit, just 30% said Parliament was
one of the top three institutions that made an impact on their lives.
The reality
Yet the reality is different, and more reassuring. Most of the current generation of members of the Commons
are far more active in representing the views of local people than their predecessors. Britain remains a pretty
harmonious country. Taxes are still paid and laws are generally obeyed. So what is the truth about the House
of Commons? One of the problems is that Parliament, and indeed politics generally, are widely
misunderstood. Parliament does not govern. The executive and the legislature are interlinked. The House of
Commons provides the constitutional basis for government:
·by providing a prime minister with the majority to win, and remain in, office
·by providing most of the people who will become ministers
·by approving the legislation, especially on finance, necessary for an administration to function
The speaker is the figurehead, the ceremonial face of the Commons, and presides over debates. But apart
from purely administrative matters, there is no corporate view, but rather an agglomeration of 650 individual
opinions and interests, largely articulated through the party battle.
Voters, MPs and parties
Voters expect too much of politicians. They look for absolute answers and shout 'betrayal' when politicians
fall short of their pre-election promises. But politics is about compromise, about reconciling different, and
perfectly legitimate, interests. There are no uniquely right solutions, rather it is a question of balance, in
these cases between generations. Of course, politicians themselves are at fault for raising expectations
which cannot be fulfilled, and then suffering the consequences. The House of Commons is the forum where
these arguments are played out. It is where differences of interest and opinion face each other and are
reconciled in a non¬violent way through the competition between political parties. Many purists criticise the
whole idea of parties as imposing uniformity. But parties provide the coherence necessary to bring together
a programme of policies and take through legislation. The glue which holds parties together is a broadly
common view about political values as well as policies. This does not imply uniformity since there are often
widely different views within any party. Just look at the arguments within the Labour Party during Tony Blair's
premiership not just about the Iraq invasion but also about public service reform.
Prime Minister's Question Time
All this creates a sense of tribal loyalty, displayed during election campaigns and at the weekly
confrontations of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs). The bear pit of PMQs can alienate all but the most

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MPs shouting at each other as the speaker vainly tries to impose good order and silence
are a deeply unattractive sight, and sound. David Cameron said in an interview with Grazia magazine that
PMQs were the 'most unpleasant looking thing that 1 have to do every week'.…read more


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