Giving evidence to the House of Commons about their governance

I was furious yesterday when I left the House of Commons Governance Committee. There was so much I wanted to say about management of parliament but failed to. I remembered to say that the person they choose to lead the Commons should have expertise in the core parliamentary business of scrutiny, law-making, committees, research, dealing with the media and so on. But I forgot to say that if they appoint a generalist manager at the top they could lose their exemplary record of efficiency and judgment where it matters most. If there are occasional problems in the building – too many mice has been mentioned as a failing – surely that is better than any shortcomings in the services that enable parliamentarians to pass laws, scrutinize government and represent their electors?

Research as a social process

Writing a book about MPs in the House of Commons has reminded that that it is impossible to make sense of the world on your own. The House of Lords in the early 2000s was easier to study because a shared ethos emerged out of conversations with peers, for instance about meritocracy in the Chamber. Peers will listen most carefully to those they deem to be most expert. To see whether or not this is true you have to watch them, but at least all regular attenders made similar claims. In contrast everything in the Commons is fragmented, contested and changeable. Conflicting views about the work and behaviour of MPs are found between parties. Factions within parties disagree about the role of the whips. Different women and men perceive the rules of debate through varying lens. Those ambitious for frontbench posts work differently from those who focus on scrutiny and the representation of their constituents. And on it goes. So I'm showing my first draft to MPs and officials and rather than thinking of this as a process of correction, it is part of the process of researching the multitude of views about what goes on in the British parliament. Their responses to my draft will help me develop a fuller understanding of these views and the contradictions between them.


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