Held in contempt

What’s wrong with the House of Commons?

Author: Hannah White

Held in Contempt argues that Brexit and Covid-19 have reinforced a vicious cycle of decline in Westminster – of executive disregard for parliament, which undermines public trust in its role, and in turn further emboldens ministers to side-line the legislature. This is damaging parliament’s ability to play its part in UK democracy.

The book shows how Brexit and Covid-19 have highlighted and exacerbated existing worrying trends – government’s increasing use of fast-track processes to make laws in ways which minimise the role of parliament and ministers’ disregard for scrutiny and their disinclination to update inadequate parliamentary processes. These trends in government behaviour are contributing to low public trust, which itself is damaged by the exceptionalism and unrepresentativeness of MPs and the arcane nature of parliamentary procedures.

MPs should recognise these problems and look for ways to reverse the cycle of decline into which their institution has fallen – nurturing greater public trust in and government respect for parliament’s role. But this is unlikely to happen because many of the shortcomings of the House of Commons operate in the government’s favour, so it has no incentive to allow reforms to take place.

Potentially only a disaster – such as a major fire in the crumbling Palace of Westminster – will be enough to jolt MPs and the government out of their complacency, compelling them to acknowledge the strength of public unhappiness with the way they are currently ‘doing’ politics and forcing them to identify and act to rectify the shortcomings of the House of Commons.

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