“Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) rose. Hon. Members: Oh, no.” Yes, folks: this is our Parliament.

There are few more popular Lib Dem MPs — among the ranks of party members — than Cambridge MP Julian Huppert.

It’s not hard to see why. He stands up for civil liberties, and as a scientist (indeed, the only MP with a science PhD in the House of Commons) he is keen on evidence and a rational approach to policy-making. On both grounds, he is unpopular with those Labour and Tory MPs who regard such behaviour as a tiresome intrusion on their evidence-free, and often authoritarian, prejudices.

How do we know he’s unpopular? Because some of their number have taken to a mounting a concerted show of groaning whenever Julian is called to speak. When I was at school one of the most popular ways for us kids to intimidate teachers was to start a low-level hum during lessons which would increase in volume and be impossible to blame on a single individual. Maximum disruption for minimum risk: the coward’s choice.

Gotta love our democracy: the Mother of Parliaments, yes? Makes you proud.

julian huppert timesHere’s today’s Times (£):

Julian Huppert, who represents Cambridge, is often greeted by a collective sigh before he talks in the chamber. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, a chorus of jeers went up as the Speaker called his name. The antics have even made it into the official Parliamentary record. Hansard of February 13 bears the following account: “Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) rose. Hon. Members: Oh, no.” Dr Huppert said that the joke had gone too far. “I think it’s an example of how badly behaved Prime Minister’s questions are,” he said. “There are people shouting and talking in a deeply discourteous way. It is perfectly reasonable to respond to what people are saying but I think the atmosphere is far too often [about] trying to shout down people and that’s a very bad example for everybody.” Asked if it was bullying, he said: “It is.”

As you’d expect the Speaker, John Bercow, is keen to stamp out such behaviour. Oh, sorry, I mis-spoke… the Speaker, John Bercow, is keen to egg on such behaviour:

Some have accused John Bercow of encouraging the mockery. The Speaker has taken to referring to the Lib Dem as “the good doctor.” He regularly expresses surprise that MPs respond to Dr Huppert in the way that they do. Angus MacNeil, an SNP MP, has said that MPs’ behaviour amounted to “collective bullying” and claimed that Mr Bercow “doesn’t help”.

Support for Julian has come from other quarters:

Julian himself is phlegmatic:

“You have to have a bit of a thick skin. In some ways it’s better to be noticed than ignored.”

But I don’t think we should be on his behalf. This is the kind of behaviour which makes people despair of Parliament and deters people from wanting to get elected. It was unacceptable when I was a kid, but at least we had the excuse of being young and immature. What’s MPs’ excuse?

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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17 Comments

  • Julian Huppert shows them all up!

    Hurray!

  • I am thrilled that Julian Huppert and Liberal democrats are raising standards in Parliament like this. I hope all MPs who want to see better standards will give him their strongest support.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jun '13 - 5:53pm

    “Evidence” is being compiled at the moment to make the case for increasing the money supply, whilst my “prejudices” tell me it will hurt fixed income pensioners and those on the pay and benefit freezes the most.

    Politics is more about principles than science and we should be wary of politicians brandishing “evidence” to promote their prejudices.

  • Lab/Con MPs groaning when Lib Dem MPs stand up is a sure sign that Lib Dem MPs are doing exactly what they were elected to do, which is to break the cosy consensus.

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Jun '13 - 8:18pm

    I can’t say I’m a member of the Huppert fan club (but then I’m not a Lib Dem). He may have a PhD and a belief in “evidence”, but that doesn’t stop him doing what any other politician does and using bogus and discredited statistics to support his arguments, as I pointed out when he wrote about CCTV here in February.

  • Robert Wootton 14th Jun '13 - 12:19pm

    If the speaker of the House of Commons “eggs on” bad behaviour, perhaps he should be subject to a vote of no confidence.
    Re peter,tyzak ” As we progress plans for Parliamentary reform we must ensure that a consensual chamber is a part of the new arrangements,” I totally agree; and also use the Team Syntegration method to resolve innovative outcomes that everyone can subscribe to.

  • Re Eddie Sammon’s comment

    So your prejudices tell you that certain policies will be bad for certain people – on what evidence do you base such theories ? You might be right – who knows – but you need something a bit more than prejudices to foist your policies on the electorate. People who think like that are what has brought politics and Parliament into contempt and brought the economies of Western countries to their present plight. If only someone had looked at the evidence.

  • Eddie Sammon – Extraordinary comment in the context of the article. You may actually be right but you could do with supporting your contentions … maybe with some evidence?

    Homeopathic thinking, comrade.

  • I’ve been hugely impressed by him and would take the childish digs as a backhanded compliment. If he were standing in my area my vote for 2015 would be secure, not least because of the integrity he showed over tuition fees and secret courts.

  • One of only a few impressive MPs in the commons. Not difficult to see why the rest of them should want to attack him.

  • Eddie Sammon 14th Jun '13 - 2:17pm

    It is not homeopathetic thinking to be suspicious of tories sat in think thanks finding evidence to promote policies that are highly damaging to some groups in society.

    In relation to the Julian Huppert mockery: I find the ridicule childish and I think parliament needs to get rid of its pantomime atmosphere.

  • David White 14th Jun '13 - 2:44pm

    I don’t know where peter.tyzack went to school, or when. However, in the 1950s, the speeches in debating society at my public school were heard, without interruption.

    Oh, I almost forgot, a BIG well done to Doctor Julian. I’m so pleased that the Hon Mem doesn’t allow a bunch of childish trainee-hooligans to stop him making valid points and raising relevant issues. There are some very witty MPs, none more so than The Beast of Bolsover, but their interjections are brief and don’t involve howling like banshees.

    But now a confession. When I was an Abbots Langley councillor, I was told off by the chairman for nattering – more than once, I fear! No, not for barracking, merely for quiet words to a neighbour!

  • Voted for him at selection and don’t regret it. Great that he stood by his principles and voted against tuition fees.

  • Anthony Hawkes 19th Jun '13 - 4:02pm

    My 19 year old son attended a meeting where Dr. Huppert was presenting evidence. He was very impressed and even said that he wished all politicians were like him. Apparently he knew his subject and answered the questions that were asked. Radical.

  • Eddie:

    There is no conflict between evidence, a scientific approach, and principles. Having the principles you do, you should look for evidence of how they may be advanced and examine the evidence scientifically. Science cannot provide you with principles, whatever Marx and Dawkins say, but ignoring evidence and rational discussion in proposing measures is deeply irresponsible. What you’re talking about is misuse of evidence. The best way of combating that is rational and scientific examination – prompted by gut feeling amongst other things.

    As for the treatment of Julian – yes, Parliament is often a herd with a herd’s intelligence and ability to stampede. It does of course sometimes behave much better.

    Burke got the same treatment as Julian, but then he was a bit longwinded as a speaker.

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