We've all seen photos of a near-empty chamber used to imply MPs aren't doing their jobs properly. But that's not only unfair on our politicians—it gives the public the wrong idea about how democracy worksby Tara Jane O'Reilly / May 15, 2019 / Leave a comment
Theresa May is still putting off the Queens Speech, the last division was over a month ago, and cross-party Brexit talks are still inclusive: it’d be easy to presume Parliament isn’t achieving much.
This week, one journalist tweeted “Just the three and a half hour day for MPs today” with a photo of a near-empty chamber as business in the House wrapped up on Monday, with another adding “The basic salary for a UK MP is £79,468.”
But a lack of votes and Brexit decisions don’t mean MPs aren’t still busy working hard—and implying MPs are only working three-hour days and being paid loads for it is disingenuous.
We’ve all seen the posts where a screenshot of the chamber packed out with MPs is juxtaposed with a screenshot of an empty chamber—the former often captioned something like, “MPs debating MP pay rises” while the latter is said to be a debate on a ‘proper’ issue like welfare. All it takes is a simple Twitter search of ‘MPs debating pay rise’, and a plethora of MPs being selfish vs MPs being lazy posts show up.
It’s easy to take a screenshot of a debate with few MPs present and make out that MPs don’t care about the issue being debated. This isn’t just lazy, however—it does a disservice to democracy. Caroline Lucas was criticized for doing just this recently by tweeting that 610 MPs ‘skipped’ a climate debate when actually the debate—a Backbench Business debate on a Thursday afternoon to which 37 MPs showed up—was described as “well-subscribed” by the deputy speaker.
It’s hard enough when those outside Westminster misconstrue the work of parliamentarians, but it hurts when it comes from those who work in Westminster. Lisa Nandy MP, among others, rightfully responded highlighting the work MPs actually do when they’re not at debates: “When we’re not in the chamber we’re helping constituents, speaking at events, getting up to speed on legislation, even occasionally seeing our families.”
MPs usually spend Monday to Thursday in Parliament and the rest of the week in their constituency. For most MPs travelling up or down from their constituency, work in Westminster starts after spending hours on a train or plane. They grab a copy of the order paper, check the whip…