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MPs Behaviour: More Dignity Required

Judging by Prime Minister's Questions, our MPs do not respect different opinions. Their theatrics do not encourage well-informed and dignified debates.

Gemma Forrester

Naked Politics Blogger 

PMQT is a weekly event that lasts for one hour only. During this time, MPs have what could be a valuable opportunity to challenge state policy. It is streamed online in-full and the more dramatic scenes enjoy media coverage and Facebook shares. Subsequently, MPs seem to view PMQT as a stage on which they may damage the popularity of their political opponents by launching personal attacks and making petty jibes. PMQT is always interspersed with fake laughter, foot stamping and name-calling to boot.

Both the Labour Party and the SNP recently used PMQT as a stage on which to ridicule the Prime Minister. Theresa May’s reversal of plans to increase the national insurance contributions of self-employed workers was the subject of many jokes made at the PM’s expense.

Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party goaded: “Seems to me like a government in a bit of chaos”.

Likewise, Angus Robertson of the SNP scorned the Prime Minister: “We once had a Prime Minister who said that ‘the lady’s not for turning’. My goodness, isn’t it welcome that the Prime Minister today has admitted she is for turning with her screeching, embarrassing U-turn on National Insurance”.

Labour and SNP politicians alike were a gleeful audience; they welcomed these taunts with exaggerated laughter.

I should add that all political parties are guilty of such theatrics. Conservative backbenchers took great delight in jeering at Jeremy Corbyn as he referred to Eileen the teacher, this week; a member of the public that they are supposed to represent. If in nothing else, our political parties are united in their endorsement of childish behaviour.

Watching PMQT has led me to conclude that a degree in acting would be of more use in the House of Commons than a degree in politics. The audience participation, the booing and the heckling, certainly resembles a children’s pantomime. MPs conduct in parliament is far from dignified.

What is most striking to me is the misuse of such valuable time. A sizeable chunk of the mere hour that MPs are given to question the PM is eaten into by laughter alone. I can understand the logic: when MPs speak in the House of Commons, their content tends to be aggressive. Politicians are probably afraid of being the target of verbal abuse. And hey, a couple of minutes spent hysterically laughing at an opponent is a couple of minutes with the heat off you. But surely, MPs time could be put to better use. Isn’t it tragic to think that our elected representatives opt to waste what could be a valuable opportunity to challenge the head of state having a good chuckle? Isn’t it reassuring to know that the £74,962 annual salary for MPs is well-deserved? After all, laughing is exhausting.

I would argue that PMQT could be a very useful means of challenging state policy if politicians were to conduct themselves in a more dignified manner. This would entail cutting back the insults and actually offering constructive critique of state policy.

Given the highly-publicised nature of PMQT, shouldn’t our elected representatives be setting a better example? Political opinions are undoubtedly emotionally charged and deeply personal. When politics is discussed, arguments inevitably ensue. This is why, as an unwritten social rule, political discussions are banned from the dinner table. Given the divisive nature of politics, it’s all too easy to resort to personal insults when you don’t like your opponent’s arguments. I’m certainly guilty of it. Evidently, our MPs are too.

I’m not asking for MPs to like one another. I’m not asking for a miracle. But, as politicians, MPs should set a better example. They should be eager to encourage political engagement. For politics to become more accessible, people must feel welcome to participate. We must respect different opinions and be willing to debate in a dignified manner without resorting to personal attacks.

Judging by PMQs, our MPs do not respect different opinions. Their theatrics do not encourage well-informed and dignified debates. I would go as far as arguing that their conduct actually deters people from engaging in politics; why offer your opinion if it’s just going to get shut down and ridiculed? If we learn to celebrate our political diversity, UK politics will likely benefit from increased political engagement and more time will be dedicated to fruitful discussion. Reforming MPs behaviour in parliament would undoubtedly be a big step towards achieving this.

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