Last Tuesday night on BBC2 saw the broadcast of a televisual first – and, no, it wasn’t an inoffensive episode of Top Gear. It was actually the first instalment of a four-part series called Inside the Commons, which had exclusive access to behind the scenes goings on within the House of Commons.
The programme focused on how Parliament was run on a daily basis, the difficulties faced in keeping the building maintained, and major events such as budget day and Prime Minister’s Questions. It also became very obvious from the start that this series was not going to be a mind-blowing adventure, subverting the stereotypes the public have of politicians; in fact, if anything, these views are confirmed.
We were introduced to two relatively new MPs who were still trying to understand how all the processes worked: Charlotte Leslie (Conservative) and Sarah Champion (Labour.) This brought attention to the fact that out of 650 MPs only 148 are female, despite women making up just over half of the population. Clearly this outlines another inequality issue – something that only Dapper Laughs would be proud of.
The architecture of the Palace was a prominent feature throughout the show, David Cameron describing it as being “half like a museum, half like a church, half like a school.” And that’s what an Eton education can do for you. Former Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy commented on the sheer size of the building, saying; “I still from time to time find myself not knowing [where to go] and having to ask directions.” You would have thought he’d have cut down on the booze by now.
But the ancient brickwork, painted ceilings and stain glass windows actually epitomise the British political establishment, for the majority of the figures who work there are themselves aging, unreliable and a pain to maintain. Clerks and executives within the Commons were shown wearing their gowns, bowties and wigs, as if they were attending some 19th Century dinner party – I mean, there’s sticking to traditions, and then there’s just being outdated. It is little wonder that people would rather vote during the X Factor than in a general election: Cheryl’s tears seem so much relatable than an emotionless MP.
Charlotte Leslie explained how the Commons was “backwards”, claiming that Wi-Fi has only just been introduced to offices and very little of Commons work is done electronically. How can the leaders of a digital age possibly hope to rule effectively if they don’t have the technology themselves? We might as well put the Flintstones in there. A new facility called Portcullis House did open up for use by MPs in 2001; however, even this new project is still stuck in the outdated ways of politics as most of the £235m building is dedicated simply to a huge coffee shop with £440,000 trees – probably the biggest form of growth the government has achieved.
The coverage of PMQs was totally unsurprising, displaying the event as something resembling a football match. “There isn’t a Wednesday where you don’t feel total fear and trepidation”, said the PM; presumably he wasn’t referring to Ed Miliband who is about as frightening as a glass of water, but if he is even scared of his own MPs it could show why he gets pushed around by the likes of the EU and the US. Sarah Champion described the behaviour of MPs as: “disgusting […] really embarrassingly juvenile screaming.” Imagine what it would be like with Nigel Farage in there. She also revealed how members hunt for weaknesses in each other, be it relationships or the way people look, making snide comments to try and unnerve opponents.
I’m not sure what the BBC was hoping to achieve by commissioning this programme – except perhaps for some Vines to go viral. What it does show is the utterly incomprehensible backwardness of the powers that be and the equally ridiculous childishness that is all too common in the corridors of power. How anyone could be persuaded to vote after seeing the truth behind closed doors is beyond me.