Monday, 26 March 2018

The House of Public Schoolboys needs to address its problem with bullying along with so much else.

The caricature is that the House of Commons is the last bastion of old style boorish, class obsessed masculinity. All rough jokes, pink gin and institutionalised insensitivity.

Like every cliché it contains an uncomfortably large grain of truth, as the bullying of parliamentary staff by MPs demonstrates. The public -school mentality is alive and well, staff are the 'fags' and elected members the prefects with a divine right to bully them.

The wind of modernity might be about to blow through the dusty halls of privilege as the House of Commons Commission gave its support to an inquiry into bullying last week.

David Natzer, clerk to the House of Commons told the BBC he had 'no doubt' there are 'unresolved issues over bullying and harassment '

And how; issues that go all the way up to the foot of the Speaker's Chair. Current incumbent John Bercow was named in a BBC report as having, allegedly, belittled a female aide, he has strongly denies having done so.

As a result, he will not be involved with the inquiry, a significant loss because for all his love of the limelight Mr Bercow has been a consistent proponent of modernisation.

The inquiry has been welcomed by Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsome and the cross -party membership of the House of Commons Commission. In a statement reported by the BBC they said it had been 'agreed the inquiry should be initiated immediately.

It will be carried out by non-executive lay members with an 'expert' lead and will be fully independent. There have been calls for it to deal with 'historic' allegations of bullying, however no decision has been taken on this point yet.

One such case might be that of then Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, in 2013 the BBC reported that he had complained about the 'absolutely hideous' treatment he had received at the hands of fellow MPs. He accused them of behaviour that was 'sexist' and 'deeply rude'.

At the time two opposing views were expressed to the BBC, Labour's Lisa Nandy said such behaviour showed 'the worst of politics'; Tory James Wharton said, 'the theatre of politics is not a bad thing'.

The 'theatre ' in question being things like the weekly playground spat that is PMQs, where the leaders of the two main parties trade scripted insults before an audience of baying back benchers is held up as evidence of our healthy democracy. If you follow such thinking to its illogical conclusion there should be a daily game of British Bulldog organised in the division lobby.

It is democracy as imagined by an old school games master, the weaker boys just need to toughen up and play the game. A viewpoint that is as outdated as it is witless, in any other workplace it would have been pensioned off a generation or more ago.

Just how damaging bullying in the workplace can be was proved in 2015 by a TUC survey that found a third of the people researchers spoke to said they had been bullied at work, often by someone in a senior position.

General Secretary Frances O'Grady said 'bullying causes stress and anxiety and can have a devastating long -term effect on victim’s health, no one should have to leave their job due to being bullied'

What has, allegedly, been happening to parliamentary staff needs to be investigated and those responsible, regardless of position or prestige, named and sanctioned. That though can only be the start, there needs to be a thorough examination of how parliament works.

Behaviour is often the product of the environment in which it occurs, the House of Commons with its arcane rituals and public -school ethos is a toxic place to work. It encourages the worst excesses of the white, upper class and emotionally constipated types who make up most of its membership.

Anyone who doesn't fit their limited template of how an MP should look and behave is a threat to be neutralised with ridicule, as for the staff; they're there to fetch and carry for their betters and not to have the temerity to complain about how they're treated.

That is no way to run a parliament that is truly representative of the people its members represent. It must look and sound like modern Britain, less gin- soaked braying in the chamber and a lot more talk about what it’s like to live in our troubled country in the voices of women, minorities and the working classes.

I am not so naive as to think that a more diverse parliament would be a utopia, put any group of people together and there will be friction; some people will always pick on others as a way of hiding their own weaknesses. Proximity can though can breed tolerance and mature compromises, both of which are all too often absent in politics.

At the very least it would make for an environment in which staff were valued and MPs could get on with the important job of representing their constituents instead of having to navigate around the sort of behaviour that belongs in the playground.

No comments:

Post a Comment