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.
Here’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:
I don’t care what opposition MP’s think of @julianhuppert -I think he’s a brilliant champion for Cambridge, fantastic campaigner & friend
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) June 13, 2013
— Dominic Hannigan (@dom_hannigan) June 13, 2013
— Kaya Burgess (Times) (@kayaburgess) June 13, 2013
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.