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Order! Order! Commons Speaker calls for ‘fluid and flexible’ Parliament at PSA 2019
The man at the centre of recent historic and highly-charged Brexit debates hot-footed it to Nottingham to argue that Parliament needs to speed up or “render itself redundant”.
With the UK now due to leave the European Union on 31 October, the Speaker of the House of Commons told the Political Studies Association (PSA) conference that public engagement is higher than ever.
During a lecture entitled “Parliament in an anti-politics age”, John Bercow said arguments over Brexit had renewed interest in parliamentary processes, their worth and the role of MPs.
But they have also highlighted a need for Parliament to keep up with the pace of the electorate’s thirst for knowledge and answers.
“Wherever you go, whether it be down the pub, at the dinner table, standing at the school gate or in conversation with colleagues by the water cooler, there is no doubt people are talking about Brexit, politics and Parliament,” he told more than 400 leading academics at the conference in Nottingham Trent University.
“It is without a doubt the most important issue in the country right now, which is why it is essential for me to be in the chair while the process remains uncertain.
“But in a world where technology allows citizens and consumers to demand what they want, when they want it — a similar sense of immediacy will be expected from their parliament and parliamentarians.
“To be told that a major development will be discussed in Parliament a few days or a week later is no longer good enough. A society which has the technological means to act at considerable pace will expect better than that.
“If Parliament does not respond at the speed its electorate expects, then it risks rendering itself redundant.”
The Speaker predicted that while the House of Commons will look quite similar in 2029 as 2019 — especially the green benches — its timetable will have to be “much more fluid and flexible”.
“One senses the arrival of remote electronic voting cannot be deferred forever,” he added.
The 2019 PSA Annual International Conference offers academic researchers from across the political sciences the opportunity to share their research, constructively challenge each other’s findings and hone best practice, while exploring the theme, “(Un)sustainable Politics in a Changing World”.
Professor Angie Wilson, the PSA’s chair, said: “We are delighted to hear from Mr Speaker at the PSA’s Annual International Conference during this critical time, especially as it brings together leading academics to consider the current state of politics, democracy, elections, political leadership and representation.
“Mr Speaker’s speech, ‘Politics in an Anti-Politics Age’, is especially timely in discussing how Parliament should respond to the challenges it faces and what the future holds for the House of Commons.”
About John Bercow
Since his election as Speaker in 2009, John Bercow has sought to champion the rights of backbenchers, and granted an unprecedented 592+ Urgent Questions from MPs — more than any other Speaker — to bring ministers to account on the pressing issues of the day.
His attempts to modernise Parliament, include the removal of a pistol shooting gallery and the creation of a workplace nursery for the use of MPs and staff.
He is a passionate supporter of LGBT rights — and has spearheaded efforts to make Parliament more diverse and representative of the nation, with the appointment of the first Serjeant at Arms, Commons chaplain and senior lawyer from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds (BAME).
He was one of the founders of the Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme, giving young people a chance to shadow and work for MPs — and spearheaded the opening of a Parliamentary Education Centre, which is set to attract one million school children in 10 years.
He was also the first Speaker to allow the UK Youth Parliament to debate in the House of Commons chamber — an annual event he also chairs.
But after 9.5 years in top office, Mr Bercow says he is most proud of his outreach work — visiting hundreds of schools, universities and community groups across the UK — to broaden the appeal of Parliament.
“One of the best bits about this job, as an ambassador for Parliament, is talking to young people — our future MPs and lawmakers — about how it works and what we do,” he said.