Why do our MPs behave so badly?

Sue Kedgley asks this question. It’s not all MPs that behave badly, I’ve had communication with a number of MPs who strongly support better parliamentary behaviour – see Members of Parliament (Code of Ethical Conduct) Bill.

But some MPs do behave badly, and behaviour in parliament, especially during question time, often seems dominated by the bad behavers.

It’s no wonder we don’t trust MPs

Why do our MPs behave so badly?

I seldom watch Question Time in Parliament these days.

I sometimes wonder who does, other than the press gallery, parliamentary staff, lobbyists and those with a masochistic streak.

It’s supposed to be the high point of the parliamentary day – a time when the opposition can grill the government and hold it to account.

But more often than not it’s a low point – an hour when MPs let off steam by shouting, jeering, point scoring, hurling abuse and bickering with each other.

Few questions are actually answered during Question Time, either, as most ministers are trained in the art of evading rather than answering questions. And some questions aren’t intended to solicit answers, but simply to score points or attack the Government.

A lot of time is wasted on points of order, too, or barracking or interrupting the other side. And the general impression is that nobody is listening, or is there learn. So I decided to watch Question Time the other day, to see if it had improved at all in recent months.

Sadly, it hadn’t. The session was banal, frustrating and pointless.

Sadly that’s the impression of parliament that a lot of people get. Much parliamentary work goes on away from the cameras and media coverage.

But what should be the showpiece of Parliament is odten a shampiece.

To be fair, the present Speaker, Dr Lockwood Smith, has tried harder than most of his predecessors to get ministers to answer questions.

But despite his best efforts, Question Time remains a hopelessly unsatisfying political game. For most MPs, the objective is not to elicit or divulge genuine information, but to score points and attack the other side.

This is a real pity, as Question Time is one of the few times when the House is full, and the press gallery is in attendance. Most of the rest of the time the House is deserted.

Yes, if you watch parliamentary television coverage, apart from question time the house looks mostly deserted.

It’s easy for MPs to get caught up in the daily ritual of Question time, and to end up thinking that the shouting and abuse is normal and acceptable behaviour.

But outside of Parliament, many find it off-putting and even pathetic.

Yes. Many of those outside the political beltway and bubbles often see it as pathetic.

Back in 2002 a group of Wellington High school pupils observed Question Time, and wrote a report about it, expressing their shock at the aggressive, bullying culture in Parliament.

“There was a lot of verbal violence. MPs shouted at each other and abused each other. They would groan or jeer or interrupt if they disagreed with what was being said.

“They didn’t listen to each other and there was no sense of working toward anything.”

The behaviour in the House would not be accepted in the classroom, they concluded, or even the playground.

Fairly typical observations of people not familiar with ‘normal’ parliament.

Many MPs dismiss these sorts of criticism, and defend Question Time, arguing that it is all part of the robust cut and thrust of politics. But I believe the constant sniping and personal attacks have a corrosive effect on public perceptions of parliament and politicians.

Political activists also think that negative, attack politics and bad behaviour is “the robust cut and thrust of politics”.

And political activists seem to behave at their worst when defending this bad behaviour, they seem to hate being confronted on it. In my extensive experience on political social media the worst I see sems to be when activists are trying to defend bad behaviour like blatant lying or abuse.

I’ve been banned or blocked from commenting from three major political blogs for confronting nasty politics.

And when I suggested on Trade Me Message Board yesterday that Labour were acting badly I got the usual attacks.

Bad MP behaviour is supported by political activists.

This needs to be countered. ‘Good’ MPs need to be more vocal in demanding better behaviour of their colleagues.

And those commenting in political social media should speak up more demanding a better standard of politics.

Why do our MPs behave so badly? Because we let them keep getting away with it.

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