Published on 5 May 2016

Politicians on phones in parliament – a turn off?

Politics has descended once again into fiddling. Not this time of MPs’ expenses, nor of the books, but with mobile phones.

Following one of the most intemperate and at times childish Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament yesterday, it was the turn of the Shadow Health Minister Heidi Alexander to raise issues with the Government about the junior doctors’ contract and NHS bursaries. The Health Secretary made it clear that he would not be answering questions, but was good enough to turn up, apparently, to listen.

But no sooner had Ms Alexander started to speak than Jeremy Hunt started ostentatiously fiddling with his phone. It got so bad that the Speaker John Bercow had to halt Ms Alexander and remonstrate with Mr Hunt, informing him of his poor manners and breach of Parliamentary protocol. “Stop fiddling with your phone” was Mr Speaker’s final order.

No sooner had the speaker called upon Ms Alexander to resume speaking, than the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons Thérèse Coffey started playing even more aggressively with her mobile. Once again Speaker Bercow jumped to his feet, and in exasperation he told her, “if you can’t listen to what’s going on, get out.”

In many ways we have a House of Commons that seems to look nothing like any other place in our lives. This is in terms of the composition of those that represent us – where 70% of those in the House are male, and only around 6% from ethnic minorities, compared with 14% in the population as a whole.

But it also feels alien in terms of the behaviour of those who work there; it sometimes seems to resemble the antics of a drunken pub crowd, or a school debating society. Would doctors or nurses in the NHS have been able to get away with playing with their phones while seeing patients?

As the Speaker himself said, the MPs he was telling off are very clever people. Do they ever wonder what they look and sound like sometimes to those they represent?

To many of those people, the conduct of politics feels increasingly adrift from their daily lives. Not a comfortable position on the day when many of us go out to vote.

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13 reader comments

  1. H Statton says:

    If the Labour MP for Bolsover was kicked out for his “dodgy Dave” comment, then Jeremy Hunt and Thérèse Coffey should have been sent out for ‘playing’ on/with their phones. They are ill-mannered and disrespectful wags.

  2. Janet Beale says:

    I absolutely agree with Jon Snow. The arrogance of Mr Hunt etc beggars belief, especially, as you say, on a polling day!

  3. Elaine Gibson says:

    Jeremy Hunt is a disgrace. In what other occupation would you be able to turn up for work and elect not to answer questions on your specialist subject. He has shown total contempt for our parliamentary traditions, the opposition and the NHS which he is in charge of. I think this idiot should be sacked. As for Thérèse Coffey she should be dealt with in an even more forceful way as she is the deputy leader of the house and should know the rules and protocols.

  4. Catherine says:

    mobile phones should be banned from the chamber.

  5. Kate says:

    Jon- I am not a little miffed by your assertion that the HoC at times looks/ sounds like “a school debating society” – maybe yours but certainly not mine and as a past president thereof back in the day ( Kilmarnock Academy) I wish to distance myself and all my fellow debaters from the rabble that we see before us.

  6. John Hackett says:

    This is the man who is supposed to be negotiating with the junior doctors.
    I think I should say this is the child who is negotiating to get rid of the NHS

  7. clive ellis says:

    I dont think Tories in safe seats care how they appear.

  8. Amy says:

    I am a student nurse. If I persistently behaved as our politicians often behave in the House of Commons, I would not be allowed to continue on my course, and would not be allowed to register as a nurse as I am hoping to do next year. In the grand scheme of things, individual MPs *could* have a more larger impact on the welfare of the British people than individual nurses. As elected officials, their duty to do so is surely much greater? Why do they not hold themselves to at least the same standards of behaviour? It is embarrassing to watch.

  9. Doug Tibbitts says:

    It was absolutely clear that the Tory front bench intended to be comptemptuous of the entire house. It also means that they hold teh public in contempt becuase we pay therir wages.

  10. Carol Hedges says:

    I find the whole behaviour of our so-called ‘elected’ politicians disgusting. The snorty sneers and rarara stuff from the Tories, while at the same time trying to dismantle the NHS and make the lives of the poor unbearable, is a crime against us all. How much longer do we have to endure these awful scenes of bully-boy playground stuff? It isn’t even as if there are any true orators and good speakers any more. It’s all lowest common denominator boorish monosyllabic crassness.

  11. Adrian McElholm says:

    If that happened in a lecture theatre the lecturer would order them out. If they’d already been asked, the mobile would be ripped from their hand and thrown across the room.

    And yet people voted for these sociopaths, and still will, no matter how they behave. And in greater numbers than the opposition. That’s the depressing thing.

  12. Bushra Qureshi says:

    Maybe he was doing something important. You can do a lot more with mobile phones than just have a conversation.

  13. Jomki says:

    May be the electronic device has content helpful to the debate..

Comments are closed.