After the purifying fire of the expenses scandal, as Bernard Jenkin (MP) put it in a recent debate, something had to be done to restore the reputation of parliament. In 2009 Tony Wright (former LabourMP) wrote to PM Gordon Brown withsome suggestions. On 10th June Dr Wright was sitting in the chamber and Jack Straw came up to him and asked, “Did you know that the PM is about to announce the establishment of a committee on reform and you will be Chair?” He didn’t. The Wright Committee, as it came to be known, worked at lightening speed. Their recommendations were all passed and the Coalition government established the Backbench Business Committee. MPs elected not only the chairs and members of this committee but all select committees in the House of Commons. What effect has this had?

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.


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