Emma's blog

Research with MPs: following tweets and protecting secrets

 

Doing research with MPs is electronic and frantic. In contrast, when I studied Sri Lankan potters, I arrived in a venerable Austin 35 and one by one over months my hosts introduced me to their neighbours. Similarly in the House of Lords I was passed from peer to peer in a leisurely fashion. As I finished one interview Lord x would say, “Baroness y, have you met our resident anthropologist?” Or I would post handwritten letters. In the Commons I book by email or phone in an organised and time-conscious fashion.  If feeling brave, I walk up to MPs after committees and ask if I can write and, if they feeling kind, they give me personal emails so I can circumvent their staff.

Commons Theatre

 

MPs have to face the terror of performing in the chamber. George Bentinck did not speak in debate for two decades in the nineteenth century. These days silence is inconceivable. All MPs feel obliged to express the opinions both of their constituents and their party, and even sometimes their own, and to do so regularly and, if possible, dazzlingly.

John Thurso (MP) told me, “the HoC chamber is a bear-pit. When discussing the big issues, and at PMQs[1], it is like a storm, a great crash on the rocks. No other forum delivers so much adrenalin and demands so much nerve[2].” The gladiatorial battles – between The Chancellor and his Shadow last Tuesday, for example – demands from each command of their own policy and detail of their opponents’ failures. 

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