Who speaks for Parliament?

ParliamentMy article, ‘Speaking for Parliament,’ has been published online by Parliamentary Affairs.  It will be appearing in a print edition in due course.  It is based on my Michael Ryle Memorial Lecture, delivered in Speaker’s House in July.

The theme of the article is straightforward.  For Parliament, these are the best of times, these are the worst of times.  They are the best of times in Parliament’s relations with the executive.  Both Houses are now more effective in calling government to account than at any point in modern British history.  They are the worst of times in terms of Parliament’s relations with the public.   People have always been critical of politicians, but recent decades have seen a growing distrust of parliamentarians.  The expenses scandal may have exacerbated the distrust, but it is not the cause and has not had the impact parliamentarians attribute to it.  The problem is more longstanding.

Parliamentarians have tended to adopt a ‘tin hats’ approach, retreating to the bunker until the problem goes away.   Adopting a reactive and passive approach will not help enhance Parliament’s reputation.  However, adopting a proactive response is hampered by the unique nature of Parliament.  Parliament is an entity that comprises two distinct chambers, each of which is the sum of several hundred independent units.  There is no one who can speak for Parliament.  There is no equivalent, as in business, to a chair or chief executive who can respond as soon as there is a crisis.  There is no CEO of Parliament.  The Clerk of each House is the chief executive officer of the House, but is not the same as a company CEO.  MPs and peers are not the equivalent of company employees or shareholders.  The intrinsic nature of Parliament hinders its capacity to deal with attacks.  Doing a good job in scrutinising the executive will not counter popular distrust.  Rather, what is needed is for MPs and peers to act proactively to defend and promote the interests of the institution of which they are members.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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8 Responses to Who speaks for Parliament?

  1. tizres says:

    While a few CEOs are closely associated with a brand, most remain as unknown as parliamentarians. Successful branding depends on a variety of factors, such as relevance, the competition, timing, and, as you allude to, a true belief in great customer service.

    There is a wider problem of what democracy means to the individual. Viewed at, say, the local level, there is almost no transparency and, with removal of Standards and no accountability. Local elections are not an equivalent accountability device as general election if no-one know the name of the representatives, or no-one else stands, another common problem at this level. It is only very recently that the public were allowed to record meetings since no-one else does…oh, you know the rest. I daren’t start on what democracy means to Momentum, it would be rude to make a comment longer than the post,

  2. Croft says:

    “Rather, what is needed is for MPs and peers to act proactively to defend and promote the interests of the institution of which they are members.”

    This is going to fall on deaf ears until at least some base level of public trust is restored and as the steady stream of misbehaviour – by however few – continues (and is nvr punished in any manner likely to meet public approval) the process never starts….

  3. In the USA it is a truism that one runs for Congress by running against it. For a long time it has been nearly impossible to argue against that tradition. But today some portion of the electorate can see the cost of not having much respect for the legislature….Federal legislature at least….

    • Croft says:

      Congress has proved both dysfunctional and unreformable so contempt is inevitable as is that those once elected soon join in with all the things which they argued against as its so rewarding personally.

  4. Pingback: 30 years as a professor | The Norton View

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