Debunking the myth that MPs are lazy and selfish

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On the Spectator blog, Isabel Hardman does a fantastic job in exposing a particular internet meme as a straightforward lie.

You probably know the message in question. It’s the one that has two pictures of the House of Commons side by side – one empty chamber, labelled ‘debate on welfare’ (or something like that); and another of a full chamber, with the label ‘debating MPs’ salaries’. The idea being that MPs are lazy and selfish.

I’ve just posted a comment on the article, and thought I may as well paste it here too. It fits very nicely with the counter-cultural ‘politicians aren’t all bad’ contrariness of other offerings.

Personally, I don’t think you [Isabel] go far enough. Anyone who has spent time following legislation in Westminster knows that the smaller the number of people who attend, a better debate it is. PMQs and other marquee events are showpieces and are rubbish examples of democracy. My ideal debate is one where about 8 people show up: a junior minister, their shadow, and a smattering of MPs that actually know about the issue. In those situations you get proper deliberative democracy: polite debate on matters of substance, with concessions, compromise and consensus, all of which are far easier to achieve when the House is not in Braying Mob mode.

Anyone who thinks that MPs are lazy know-nothings should visit a public bill committee debate – say, day 5 of 5 – and listen to them talk for hours about a line here or a word there. They’ve all read the legislation and the research supplied with it. They have all thought about what needs to change in the bill, and they’re doing it in a cordial manner. It’s dull dull dull, but does restore a sense of faith in Parliament.

3 thoughts on “Debunking the myth that MPs are lazy and selfish”

  1. I made a point on Twitter that people who’ve posted these photos aren’t necessarily educated in the way parliament works. Is that their fault? I didn’t know much about it until I studied central government on my NCTJ. Pretty niche.

    The media have a lot of responsibility for the way people see parliament, as do party leaders who seem to know that PMQs is bollocks but just shrug and say “But that’s just how it is.” Nobody’s interested in addressing myths. The system militates against it.

    Also, attending a public bill committee debate is a fine idea, Rob, but an exclusionary one for who anyone who is skint/time poor/not a Londoner.

    1. Good points all, Justin—in fact many of the comments called out Hardman/The Spectator/The Media for being part of the problem.

      A lot of the more obscure debates and committees can be viewed online or BBC Parliament. Appreciate that is still a bit exclusionary though.

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