John Bercow should look to Australia for ideas on how to deal with unruly MPs

John Bercow did try to get an Australian installed as the new Clerk of the Commons in what seemed to me to be quite a sensible move to split the roles of Chief Executive and Procedural expert. He might want to take a leaf out of the book of the Australian Speaker who has developed a habit of ejecting unruly MPs. At one PMQs session at the end of last year, she ejected 18 of them in 73 minutes.

You can watch the video and ensuing drama unfold below.

The reason I say this today is because of the disgraceful tidal wave of heckling which greeted Mike Crockart when he got up at Prime Minister’s Questions. It was so childish and there was simply no reason for it.You can see it from 10 minutes in. It wasn’t particularly unusual behaviour, but it’s high time Bercow moved beyond his sarcastic comments and started chucking people out. It’s the only way they’ll learn. He might want to make sure he throws people out from both sides, because there are plenty who deserve it.

Mike told me on Twitter afterwards:

It’s horrible that this is the sort of behaviour that most people see of Parliament.  But it certainly wasn’t going to upset Mike today. He was already pleased at much tougher action announced today on nuisance calls. Given that he’s been one of the leading voices on this with his No to Nuisance Calls campaign, you would think that the BBC would have mentioned him, but no. He asked the PM about the possibility of going even further rand implementing a national call-blocking scheme to protect vulnerable people from incessant nuisance calls.  However, later in the day he did plenty other media:


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Oh Caron, PMQs and parliamentary debates are generally a disgrace. But why be so partisan in your complaints, the Tories have been abusing Ed Balls over his stammer for years, and Labour have been abusing them back, but it’s only when a Lib Dem gets mildly heckled that you get annoyed.

    It will never be fixed as long as people are partisan in when they take offence.

  • Mike Crockart MP deserves 100% support for taking up the issue of nuisance calls.

    These calls are a classic example of the evils of the so-called “free market”.
    Regulation (effective regulation with stringent sanctions and punishments) should be introduced without delay.

    I regularly receive calls (some automated messages – some from someone working to a script in a call centre) claiming that I have been involved in a road traffic accident. Sometimes several calls per day. This is just one of the regular scams.
    I have not been involved in any sort of road traffic accident in the last twenty years. Phoning me and suggesting otherwise is a deliberate criminal activity by crooks who are attempting to defraud me.

    So why does the Government allow this? It is because Government has been captured by the corporate criminals who preach the mantra that the so called “free market” must rule everything in life.

    I look forward to Mike Crockart being successful in his campaign.

  • Simon McGrath 26th Feb '15 - 8:39am

    Bercow wasnt trying to split the roles originally.

    He only did that when his preferred candidate was demonstrated to be utterly unsuitable for the procedural side.

  • Indeed: as pointed out on Inside the Commons, the Speaker is the servant of the House, not the other way around. Bercow needs to remember that he is there to facilitate robust debate, not to try to calm it down or impose his own views of how the commons should operate on a Chamber that was there long before him and will be there long after he is gone.

    I want people running the country who are tough enough to take a bit of heckling. It is not a job for shrinking violets or sensitive souls.

  • Dav – Yes we need people who will speak up and say what they think, there are also people who will be very conscientious at getting their job done as an MP by lobbying behind the scenes, but none of these people should expect the abuse and bullying that MPs of all parties get. We wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) expect it in a normal workplace and we would rightly report a work colleague for bullying if they constantly heckled and patronised you every time you voiced an opinion. It’s one thing that dissuades some people from being active in politics.

    This isn’t just an issue for parliament though as councils are probably as bad, and in some places worse. Perhaps that makes me too sensitive to be a councillor but four and a half hours of abuse and aggressive criticism at every full council reason was one reason I was glad to step down last May.

  • We wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t) expect it in a normal workplace

    The House of Commons is not a normal workplace, though. It’s where people go who want to run the country. If you want to run the country you should be tough enough to not quail at some abuse being hurled your way; you should be able to soak it up and then return it right back, preferably with a bit of wit spun in.

    MPs are self-selected, remember: no one forces them to be stand for election. If they can’t hack it, they shouldn’t put themselves forward for it.

    Perhaps that makes me too sensitive to be a councillor

    I think so, yes. And definitely too much so to be an MP.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Feb '15 - 11:00am

    JohnTilley26th Feb ’15 – 7:46am

    Exactly what John Tilley says regarding this abusive ‘free market’ free for all and Mike Crockart’s ‘No to Nuisance Calls’ campaign.

    Another ‘Common Ground’ idea for a Liberal Democrat manifesto?

  • Jayne Mansfield 26th Feb '15 - 11:01am

    @ John Tilley,
    Gosh I get these regularly. Someone saying I have been in an accident that was not my fault. I usually just put the phone down but I don’t know whether I once rand back in frustration and left a message. How does the scam work. I am worried now.

  • Jayne Mansfield 26th Feb '15 - 11:04am

    @ Dav,
    You seem to be making a mistake that is all too commonplace. You seem to be placing the blame for being bullied on the shoulders of the victim (too sensitive, not tough enough to withstand abuse, when the blame lies entirely with the abuser.

    I want parliamentary representatives who are sensitive and empathetic to others.

  • Jayne, I don’t think you should worry about this one. What the scammers expect is that if they try enough numbers, eventually they will find someone who did have an accident, and who they can persuade to engage them in making a claim. Then the scammers will make their money by taking most of the proceeds whenever they win a claim. If you didn’t tell them to make a claim on your behalf, they can’t hurt you – except by continuing to pester you with calls!

  • You seem to be placing the blame for being bullied on the shoulders of the victim

    I never said anything about blame. I simply said I want people running the country who are tough enough to withstand the abuse.

    Who is to blame for the abuse is neither here nor there; but if you want to run the country you should not be the type to go and cry when people are horrendously mean to you, you should give it back to them with interest.

  • It might improve if, at PMQs, Cameron actually made any attempt at answering a question…..As for replying to abuse, the abusers usually work in packs and, as such, the abuse is difficult to answer….

    AS we are constantly being informed that the vast majority of MPs are normal hardworking people the ejection of the ‘ hooligan’ minority would enable the real work of parliament to proceed…..

  • Dav

    If you want to run the country you should be tough enough to not quail at some abuse being hurled your way; you should be able to soak it up and then return it right back, preferably with a bit of wit spun in.

    Personally I’d rather people who want to run the country had an area of specialist knowledge, were numerate, not afraid of asking the advice of experts, or indeed of changing their minds in response to new evidence.

  • Liberal Neil 26th Feb '15 - 12:03pm

    I don’t want anyone in parliament to have to put up with abuse.

    I want them to be held to account by proper robust questions to which they have to give proper answers. All the shouting and rowdy behaviour gets in the way of the job Parliament is there to do and should be stopped.

    I want senior politicians who have the skills needed to be on top of their brief, to be able to set out and explain their policies, and to be able to answer serious questions. I don’t expect them to have to have skills to deal with behaviour that wouldn’t be allowed in a primary school classroom.

  • Jayne Mansfield 26th Feb '15 - 12:12pm

    @ David Allen,
    Thank you David.

  • As an alternative solution:

    Improve the quality of recording equipmentt in the commons with cameras that track each member during debates all of the footage made available online. For effective MPs It would show them being effective , for the clowns it would give the raw material for any budding local “cassette boys” to expose badly behaved MPs.

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th Feb '15 - 7:34am

    @ Dav,
    Apologies. No you did not mention blame and I was clumsy in my choice of words. I should have said that the problem lies with the bullies. Most of us are ‘shrinking violets’ when faced with people who are ‘horribly mean’ to us. That is because we operate in personal worlds where other people have been taught good manners. Unfortunately, there are some in the Houses of Parliament , who have often been educated at great expense, who have not been taught polite behaviour.

    I disagree with you because, rather than lowering oneself to act as they do, I believe that the offenders should be removed from the chamber like the disruptive, infantile personalities that they are, thus allowing mature adults to get on with the serious business of running the country. (It is never too late to teach people how to behave like grown- ups.)

    PS. When challenged, bullies are the biggest ‘cry babies’!

  • Most of us are ‘shrinking violets’ when faced with people who are ‘horribly mean’ to us.

    Well, indeed (though some of us may be better at standing up for ourselves than others). But that is why we want to make sure that ‘most of us’ don’t end up in the House of Commons: we simply wouldn’t have strong enough personalities to do it.

    Think of the house of Commons as being the equivalent of the Royal Marines’ final obstacle course, but for personality, not physical strength. The whole point is that it’s too tough for most people, to ensure that only the strongest make it through and end up trying to run the country.

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