Julian Huppert highlights “absolutely hideous” Commons bullying

Julian Huppert, Lib Dem PPC for CambridgeYou would think, wouldn’t you, that when an MP presents a bill on such a serious subject as protecting people from sexual assault, the House of Commons would act in a grown up fashion? After all, the shouting and jeering is all for the pantomime of PMQs, and the rest of the time people behave like cuddly teddy bears, don’t they?

Let me take you back to 21st October 2008, when Willie Rennie introduced his Bill (which eventually became law) enabling driving instructors to be suspended from the Register if they were convicted of sexual assault. This was the culmination of two years work after constituent Lesley Anne Steele told him how her driving instructor had been back at work two days after his conviction, and placing on the sex offenders’ register, for assaulting her. She waived her right to anonymity to speak about what happened to her and helped Willie close the loophole that allowed him to continue working.

I watched as Willie went through the ritual of presenting the Bill, a few step forwards, bow, a few more steps, more bowing and so on. As he did so, you could hear a lot of noise coming from the Conservative benches. Jacqui Smith, Labour’s home secretary at the time, smirked. One of the nicer epithets being thrown at Willie from the Conservative benches was “Scottish git.”

Five years on, it’s our Julian Huppert who takes dog’s abuse from the Labour benches whenever he rises to speak, particularly at Prime Minister’s Questions. While I might tease that we may as well rename PMQs “The Julian Huppert Show” because he’s always being called to speak, at least you know he’ll bring an oasis of  thoughtfulness to the proceedings.

On Monday, Julian spoke to the Daily Politics about the “absolutely hideous” and “inappropriate” behaviour. He made the point that if we want to get more women into politics, this sort of behaviour needs sorting. Labour MP Lisa Nandy went further and called PMQs an embarrassment. You can watch the segment here.

If people outside the Westminster Bubble are going to see anything in Parliament, it’s most likely to be PMQs. Most MPs seem to be remarkably unaware of the impact of their poor behaviour. I wish there was a way of recording every insult, every groan made by individual MPs so that they could all be named and shamed. The more successful workplaces are being run on a much more collaborative basis now, and, realistically, that is often the same in Westminster but we just don’t see it. The Boardroom showdown in the BBC’s Apprentice programme lends more to the PMQs ethos, but I was struck by comments on one recent programme. Two candidates had had the mother of all rows during a task. Someone who worked at the advertising agency where the row took place said that they had never seen anything so confrontational.

James Kirkup from the Telegraph asks in a blog this week if the Commons can ever change its ways. In a paragraph that smacks of “I’m not (insert your prejudice of choice)ist but…, he says:

When it comes to attracting parliamentary abuse, Dr Huppert ticks just about every box: he’s a Lib Dem (nuff said); he’s clever (the doctorate is in biochemistry; he was a Cambridge fellow); he’s earnest (even by the standards of clever Lib Dems); and he’s ginger (especially his beard. Of course he has a beard). Short of wearing a sign on his back reading “Kick Me”, it’s hard to see what more he could do to draw jeers and catcalls.

How very primary school.

He concludes:

I suspect the debate will be with us for some time to come. Despite the theatrical interventions of Mr Bercow, the rowdy culture of PMQs isn’t shifting. But can MPs change their ways? Dr Huppert, the scientist, has offered us a very crude experiment this week. Having effectively asked fellow members to be nicer to him in PMQs, let’s see what happens.

I won’t be holding my breath on that one. It strikes me, though, that the harrying Julian and other MPs get would not be acceptable in any other workplace. The Commons is a unique environment, but more robust action is, I think, necessary. Maybe a “Grow up” campaign to name and shame MPs who indulge in this sort of unpleasant behaviour…?

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

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  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Jul '13 - 3:18pm

    I agree – this is behaviour which in any other workplace would result in disciplinary proceedings against the perpetrators. It is clear that what is happening here is not a theatrical declaration of disagreement with what Julian Huppert is saying, but rather a concerted attempt to attack him personally because he is seen as someone different from most others and hence vulnerable to attacks designed to humiliate him personally. This is bullying in the worst sense of the word. It is the sort of bullying which in other environments has led to its victims committing suicide. Anyone who engages in it is not fit to hold any professional position, let alone Member of Parliament.

    Can we as a matter of urgency have a list of the perpetrators? Surely this has happened enough times now that anyone who sits there and experiences it must know who are those who start it, and who carry on with it. Then can we run campaigns in their constituencies using the line “You have a bully for an MP. If you don’t like bullies, get rid of him/her”?

  • I am shocked and offended at the vitriol heaped upon Julian Huppert … I would feel equally the same if he were from any party, including UKIP. That he is one of the very few scientists in the commons, and always has something useful to say, I find it all the more extraordinary. Are other MPs betraying their deep insecurity.

    Anyhow Julian, you have all my support, you would even have my vote if I lived in Cambridge.

  • Yes, and there are others who in the past who have been exposed to this, including previous leaders of our party. In my experience some politicians are prone to bullying – and they will bully employees, members of the public and others they come into contact with. It is not something unique to Parliament. This is a very important discussion, when combined with that going on on the thread initiated by Mark Pack, around gender balance on Councils and candidates. It runs to the very heart of what we believe politics to be. It also challenges some traditional ideas about “leadership”, a concept I find difficult at the best of times (“alpha males” etc etc – and as suggested in the other thread, there are some “alpha females” as well) These people often appear, from the outside, to feel they are entitled to bully others.

    I agree with Matthew’s comments above – and I would add that we MUST return to a system where we have national conduct standards for councillors, an environment where bullying is pretty well known.

  • The behaviour against Huppert is disgraceful. I see it as being part of the same mindset that MPs feel entitled to a huge pay rise despite the fact they have consistently received above inflation rises for decades and are now in the richest 5% of earners and against a background of a degradation of workers real-term pay and conditions. Entitlement is a characteristic of all bullies and their sense of entitlement is matched only by the growing sense of anger of the electorate.

  • am very pleased to see nobody is suggesting that Julian should grow a thicker skin.

  • David Wilkinson 11th Jul '13 - 11:42am

    PMQ’s I look forward to it each week, to watch how our ‘betters’ run or ruin the country.
    If this was a council chamber you would be out, if this was a place work you would be out, if this was a school you would be out.
    It’s parliament let’s be a prat.

  • It is why we are all Liberal Democrats, because we are able to rise above the idiocy that we see and here from people who should know better. Prehaps when some of the more senior figures speak out ie Ed Balls with his ridiculous antics, THEN these people will be shamed into rethinking their behaviour. In the meantime we should pity them

  • Peter Chivall 11th Jul '13 - 12:45pm

    If there is an obvious perpetrator who is always first to jeer regardless of the issue or the occasion, they should be ‘named’ by the speaker and required to be suspended for a day or a week, with consequent loss of pay. Bercow should have the cojones to do this once or twice. He wouldn’t need to do it again. The backbench dregs, in this case mostly Labour, probably have fraction of the intelligence and compassion that Julian Huppert has.
    there is another issue about ‘yah-boo’ behaviour which could be changed in the next 2 years but I doubt it will. Apparently the theatre set which in reality is what the Commons chamber is, is falling down. MPs will have to move out to some appropriate temporary building for 2 years.
    What should happen is that the wider structure which includes the lobbies could be stripped out and the adversarial ‘bear pit’ could be replaced by a sensible semicircle with adequate seating and electronic voting. It would not prevent passionate debate on serious issues – just see Liverpool Town Hall over the decades with its semicircular chamber – but it could encourage a new breed of MP, of which Julian is one, that it is worth leaving a successful career to one side and spending one or more Parliamentary terms applying their knowledge and skills in the House of Commons.
    However, I am not confident that a House elected on FPTP based on selection by tribal Party committees would ever act that intelligently.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 12th Jul '13 - 7:10am

    Dave, you might have something there – could we get it in as a topical motion, maybe?

  • The columnist Bernard Levin once renamed a high-profile Tory, Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, as “Sir Reginald Bullying-Manner”.

    Part of the problem is the natural, sadistic bullies. They could be ignored, but the rest of the problem is crowd behaviour, joining in a joint attack without thinking and without reference to your own values, if any. Most people have done this at some time, but weak people free of principle do it most often.

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