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. 

Understanding MPs: nations, pressures and hours

“Diolch Mr Speaker” is how Jonathan Edwards, MP, begins his speeches in the House of Commons. English and old Norman French are the only languages allowed in the UK parliamentary Chamber. He chooses to break the rules. It is to remind himself why he is there – to represent his Welsh constituency. He plans to learn Norman French just to see how the House reacts, but for the moment “thank you” in Welsh makes his point. He does not serve parliament.  With his colleagues in Plaid Cymru, he is working for the nation and that means Wales. “I don’t want to settle down here, I want to settle up,” he told me.

I began my study of the House of Commons on 11th October with this interview.  I’m interested in what is like to be an MP and how they cope with the multitude of wildly conflicting pressures exerted on them by whips, pressure groups, journalists, civil servants, constituents and so on. A backbencher may have only minutes to decide whether to attend a committee, speak in the chamber about a matter close to their heart, do an interview with Nick Robinson or take an urgent call from their constituency.


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