This is not the House of Commons, this is the European parliament.” These were the words deputy speaker Mairead McGuinness used on Wednesday to tell off former Ukip MEPs shouting down another member during a debate in Brussels.
The Brexit crisis has put the House of Commons in the international spotlight more than ever, and the chamber divides opinion. To some like McGuiness, the Commons’ boisterous atmosphere and over-the-top shouting is a sign that MPs do not take things things seriously. It is criticised as being an archaic, hostile environment that disadvantages anyone who doesn’t take a macho approach to politics – often women.
Others speak highly of the drama of Britain’s mother of parliaments and sigh wearily at the dour debates in other legislatures like the European parliament. Many foreign observers who watch the Commons for the first time are captivated. An amazed American friend once genuinely asked me whether he was watching footage “from a movie”. Prime minister’s questions features regularly on US political channel C-Span and makes far more appearances there than any other foreign legislature – because it is so watchable.
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