Parliament in an anti-politics age: the outreach challenge
PSA/Hansard Society Annual Lecture 2009
The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP
November 30, Portcullis House, Westminster
night the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP (pictured with Fiona Booth, Chief Executive of the Hansard Society) delivered the PSA/
Hansard Society Annual Lecture to a packed audience in Portcullis House. This
was the second lecture delivered by the Speaker to a Hansard Society audience,
taking us yet further into the challenge of public engagement in the light of
the ‘reputational carnage' wreaked upon our constitutional institutions by the
expenses scandal. The lecture, entitled ‘Parliament
in an anti-politics age: the outreach challenge'
, took the following
approach. Firstly Mr Speaker was keen to issue an apology to all those employed
within the parliamentary estate for the damage done. Likening recent events to
the falling of Nazi bombs on the House in 1941, John Bercow MP stated that
nothing bar ‘wholesale reform' would offer Parliament the opportunity to
reconnect with the public.
categorically endorsing the efforts of Sir Thomas Legg, Sir Christopher Kelly
and Dr. Tony Wright MP, the Speaker promised to be a modern day Guy Fawkes,
dynamiting the culture of the past. Integral to this promise was an admission
that it is not the people who misunderstand parliament but that parliament have
not understood the public. The establishment of a multi-way relationship
between the political institutions, politicians and public was fundamental to
the Speaker's argument. For this relationship to grow sustainably and
effectively the Speaker noted that the changing nature of the public audience
must be acknowledged and understood. The divide between the ‘super-informed'
and the ‘under-informed' becomes ever greater, and he was quick to note that
the ‘super informed' becoming yet more informed is simply not enough.
to the title of his lecture the Speaker noted that this is not an
‘anti-politics' age, perhaps an ‘anti-politician' age but certainly not an age
without ‘pure politics'. This may no longer take the form of party politics,
but grass-roots activism is by no means dead. Thus he identified the challenge
as reaching out to these grass-roots and bringing their politics into the
parliamentary realm. This is something not currently considered profitable by
most activists and this is where the Speaker hopes to make a change; creating a
people's parliament. Thus we have the multi-way relationship, bringing the
people into parliament but also for politicians and Select Committees to go out
to the people, the Speaker offering the relationship between
MoneySavingExpert.com and the Treasury Select Committee as an example.
lecture culminated in the Speaker offering his vision for the future of
parliamentary outreach, the first ‘Speaker's Advisory Council on Public
Engagement' consisting of external figures responding to the needs and issues
of the public as ‘citizens, consumers and customers'. We will certainly be
looking forward to learning more as he plans to announce the Chairman in due
course. The Speaker concluded that the outreach challenge is the core notion of
his ‘modern speakership', one that will tackle the significant challenge of
convincing the public ‘that the House of Commons is about more than an enormous
set of dubious expense claims'.
The speech will be shown on the BBC Parliament channel at 9pm on Saturday December 5 and will be on BBC iPlayer thereafter.
Listen to the event: The Speaker's speech Q&A
View the photographs of the event on flickr here
Read the speech in full here