Outside the marginals

A commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010, 2015 & 2017 elections

The Commons and Claps

John Bercow – who rebuked SNP MPs for clapping in the Commons – says it is up to MPs to lift the applause ban.

Speaking at the Edinburgh Festival, the Commons Speaker said: “If the House wants to change its procedures, it can, if they vote to do so.”

MPs currently register their approval by shouting: “Hear, hear!” – clapping is considered un-Parliamentary.
BBC News Website 13 August 2015 : John Bercow: Up to MPs to lift Commons applause ban

I don’t like the braying of parliamentarians who should know better, but I am not convinced that allowing applause is an improvement.

Any means of expressing approval is likely to become distorted. “Hear hear!” has become the braying that Mhairi Black so dislikes:

So you’re not allowed to clap like an ordinary person, but you’re allowed to bray like a donkey.

I think clapping would go the same way but without the constraint of time! The more “Hear hear!” is repeated the more asinine it sounds, so it does tend to self-regulate. Applause does not self-regulate quite so easily. Showing approval by applause is measured by the length of the ovation – we know of five-minute ovations in some “peoples’ democratic republics”. Toadies (as too often seen in the House of Commons) can say “Hear hear!” once (but with extreme feeling); if applauding they would want to be the first to start and the last to stop.

The House of Commons is not a conference hall – where you would “clap like an ordinary person”; it is more like a (large!) meeting room where discussions are met with brief murmurs of approval but not with interruptions for applause.

Parliamentary behaviour – or more accurately House of Commons behaviour – has to be improved. I don’t think allowing applause is a modernisation that will improve the situation. Replacing braying with competitive clapping is not the answer. Could the House of Commons take a lesson from the House of Lords – at least in respect of showing approval?


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