Today, a new government will be elected. Yet the behind the scenes running of the Houses of Parliament remain a mystery to most, a sea of incomprehension-but understanding was brought to those who watched the BBC documentary Inside the Commons, or have read Order! Order!. They demystify the mystical, comprehensify the incomprehensible, clear the fog. As Gwyneth Dunwoody said, “Parliament is not only the last important forum for the British people, it is also the last defender of the rights of all citizens”. That the very place that affects us most is the place we understand least is something that we should attempt to immediately rectify, and the BBC and Robert Rogers have assisted most ably here.
The House of Commons is often described as a “clique”, a “gentleman’s club”, “Victorian”, and like a bear pit. Who wouldn’t want to get to grips with such an intriguing and secretive place? Michael Cockerell’s BBC documentary Inside the Commons, which aired in February this year, was a wonderful clarifying of life inside the House of Commons.
The programme seemed to have ‘access all areas’, and covered everything which was conceivably of interest in the House, from the decrepit state of the buildings (“the last thing you want is your government building falling apart, because that means your government’s falling apart”) to the issues of having young children combined with unpredictable and long hours. Cockerell presents the facts, the elitist natures and habits and lets viewers draw their own judgements, it left me of the opinion that it was an interesting and fascinating building that I would be interested to know more of.
That opinion was furthered by reading the ‘Parliamentary miscellany’ Order! Order! by Robert Rogers, the clerk of the House of Commons (who was shown retiring on Inside the Commons to an extremely rare outbreak of clapping in the House). He was shown to be somewhat archaic and outlandish, a bizarre example showing him taking some snuff with the doorkeeper, stating “That was invigorating, wasn’t it!”. On top of that, he has the best sideburns I have had the pleasure of viewing, and which are the envy of the democratic process.
His book contained a wide variety of trivia, the vast majority of which built on knowledge recently acquired in Cockerell’s documentary. There were several fascinating sections in the book, not least remembering the vitriolic exchanges between Members of Parliament, but also the section documenting the tragically old-school politically incorrect views as recently as the 20th century on women in parliament-Rogers presents some startling statistics, not least the fact that the UK’s 19.3% of Parliament being women puts us below such countries as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Pakistan. Only 50 years ago in 1957, the Earl of Glasgow stated that “women…are not suited to politics”, an outrageous statement which is obviously downright wrong.
My only issue with Order! Order! is the lisklike nature that it can acquire at points throughout the book, and certain terms are sure to be lost on those who are not veterans of parliament. However, those minor quibbles aside, it was a fascinating read of trivia and curious facts that entertained and surprised.
This is the House of Commons as never seen before.” (from ‘Inside the Commons’)
“Parliament.” (from ‘Order! Order!’)
Narrative-The structure of Order! Order! took me a little while to understand, but after that, Rogers is an excellent guide, complete with just a little bit of dry wit where it is needed-★★★★½
Readability-Easy to pick up from anywhere, as simple to read cover to cover as to pick and choose sections, Rogers has made a brilliantly readable book, but a little dry in places. Also brought the headline ‘Foot Heads Arms Body’ to my attention, which is simply wonderful-★★★★
Overall-(Inside the Commons)-a rare view inside the lawmaking process bursting to the seams with facts and fun, covering all aspects of Parliamentary life-★★★★★ (100)
(Order! Order!)-lots of short pithy quotes and fascinating traditions, but can run on a little too long and get a little dry-but don’t let that deter you, an enjoyable and educating read-★★★★½ (90)
Bonus-my tip for the general election winner-Conservative
“Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.”
Agree with my tip? Disagree?
Have you read Order! Order!, seen Inside the Commons, or other similar things? Did you agree or disagree with my election tip? Please leave a comment or contact me, I would be interested to discuss it. Otherwise, please share with the buttons below and rate.