AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
What's wrong (and what's right) with Parliament
The House of Commons is a highly complex and ever changing institution. As new demands are made upon it, so the House responds, sometimes procedural adjustment, maybe made after much argument over many years, sometimes by behavioural change, perhaps in response to procedural developments or perhaps the result of the arrival of new members with new priorities. From Parliament to Parliament, perhaps from year to year, the House is never quite the same. Select committees develop and attendance at debates dwindles; television cameras arrive and Prime Ministers' questions become public entertainment; MPs get bigger allowances and constituency mall swells to a flood. But how much has really changed? At one level, the job description for an MP might have altered; MPs of this generation fill their hours in ways very different from their predecessors. But how fundamentally has their job changed? Have even the purposes Parliament serves altered, perhaps withered--in keeping with the decline of Parliament talk? Or is the continuity actually far more striking than the change?
One of the many interesting things in Donald Searing's book is his argument that the basic structure of the various roles played by MPs `has remained remarkably stable throughout the postwar period and, indeed, throughout the century'. Backbench roles are found to be Policy Advocates, Ministerial Aspirants, Constituency Members, and Parliament Men. When leadership roles are analysed, the emphasis is on position rather than preference, with sections devoted to Parliamentary Private Secretaries `fagging at forty', Whips, Junior Ministers and Ministers, with Opposition front-benchers emerging as ministers designate. The book is based on a quite prodigious research exercise, with 521 MPs being interviewed for an average of 90 minutes each, producing typed transcripts extending, we are told, to `30,000 single spaced pages'. In addition to this, the author spent many hours `soaking and poking' in the Commons, sitting in the Whips' offices listening and observing, supping with Members, and talking with all and sundry who work there.
This book is deeply illuminating of British politics in general and the House of Commons in particular. Through its pages, politicians themselves speak of life at …