Friday, 27 April 2012

Shaking up Parliament

Despite working in parliament and loving it, I'm not going to lie and say that parliamentary select committee meetings are always the most exciting events in the world. However, the Home Affairs select committee was given some welcome coverage this week with the appearance of the controversial and notorious Russell Brand. 

On Tuesday, the committee, chaired by Keith Vaz MP, were discussing drugs policy and therefore called upon former heroin addict Brand and Chip Somers, the Chief Exec of a drugs charity to speak of their experiences. Understandably, the appearance of the ever divisive Brand prompted comment from a number of sources, some positive but the majority negative. Brand was criticised for not fitting in, not wearing a suit and not behaving in the appropriate parliamentary fashion. The Mail referred to him as a 'stranger in the house' and an 'outlaw'. This prompted a debate amongst me and some friends and raised some more important questions about the role of MPs and how important 'appropriate' parliamentary behaviour really is. 

Now I am certainly not one of Brand's biggest fans, however, as much as I dislike him, he did make some very interesting points and getting a public figure who has had first hand experience with the issue being discussed, something I doubt any of the committee members had, can prove extremely valuable regardless of whether they behave in the normal Westminster fashion. Working in parliament for the past seven months has definitely made me realise that parliament is a bubble and every so often, taking MPs out of their comfort zone is definitely a good thing. His appearance, which could well be seen as a cynical attempt to raise the profile of the committee, did however, give the issue a lot of attention and I doubt the hearing would have received as much commentary without Brand. 

Some commentated saying Brand's comments including calling MPs mate and by their first names was rude. I could not disagree more, there is a big difference between informality and rudeness. Anyone who has ever watched PMQs will notice MPs say far ruder and more aggressive things to each other within the confines of the House of Commons. If MPs are so sensitive to someone taking the mick or God forbid, using a colloquial term such as 'mate' with them then frankly they are in the wrong career. 

The main role of an MP, or what should be the main role, is meeting people, this includes people from all walks of life not just the Etonian Oxbidge educated career politicians that tend to dominate parliament these days, so if they are properly fulfilling their parliamentary duties, people who act like Brand should not shock them. I also hope the MPs had enough nouse to have heard of Brand or to have least researched him before the committee and should have therefore been prepared for his behaviour.

Finally, as with the majority of media coverage, attention was diverted to Brand's behaviour rather than the pure issues surrounding drugs, however, that doesn't sell papers and the media is routinely shabby in its coverage of drug policy. I personally thought Brand's appearance made an interesting change from the usual grey suits who present themselves to Select Committees and hearing first hand from someone who has experienced the issues being discussed is surely valuable and even though he may not have behaved in the typical Westminster fashion, he generated interest and debate and the ends justified the means. 

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