thu 11/08/2022

Inside the Commons, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Inside the Commons, BBC Two

Inside the Commons, BBC Two

Entertaining insight into the ossified ways of the Mother of Parliaments

Clocking on: Big Ben gets a face wash

The Mother of Parliaments is mostly for males. The statues sprout whiskers and the cloakroom coat-hangers have ribbons for hanging swords. The place is run at a stately plod by bewigged, be-whiskered, be-white-tied gents. Members are, for the most part, owners of same.

One welcome sign of creeping de-ossification is the access-all-areas pass granted to the BBC’s cameras for this documentary. It took only six years of knocking on the door for veteran politico Michael Cockerell to get a yea. He even managed to penetrate the debating chamber itself, where from a fresh set of camera angles the hoots of the monkeys sounded even more demoralising.

Shrewdly, to test the phallocratic arrangements of the place, this first episode (of four) followed two personable new female MPs around: Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West, Con) and Sarah Champion (Rotherham, Lab). We first met Leslie in the boxing ring, where she was knocking seven bells out of a pair of sparring pads. Later, when she asked a question at PMQs, she was slightly less intimidating. Could the Prime Minister confirm for her constituents, she more or less asked, that he is doing a quite simply spiffing job? A complicit smile passed between them, one that understood the nature of this farcical weekly pantomime. (Cameron and Leslie pictured below.)

Champion had rather better luck not looking like a stuffed dummy parroting inanities for the good of the team. It was in her constituency that the national scandal broke about sexual abuse of minors by Asian males. We watched her successful attempt to insert an amendment into the Justice Bill to make it easier to apprehend male groomers. And later she asked her own question about the Rotherham scandal. Afterwards, she beamed at the programme's camera as MPs filed out. The Prime Minister happened to pass and slipped into shot to congratulate her. “Well spoken,” he said. “That was very good.” Would he have bothered if Cockerell weren’t capturing it all on film?

Away from the chamber, the film busied itself with uncovering bizarre rituals and arcane customs, all pickled in aspic and tied up in fancy ribbon. Charles Kennedy offered a mordant tour of the corridors and cubbyholes. There weren’t many Labour MPs taking part, while the Tories were represented by a gallery of gargoyles from the militant Victorian wing of the party: Bunter Soames, Jacob Rees-Mogg-Fink-Nottle, and the almost certainly fictional Michael Fabricant, whose spun-gold bouffe was last seen atop Dougal in The Magic Roundabout.

In the infamous tea room, a singing Caribbean chateleine called Gladys explained the geopolitical lay-out of the tables. "This is Northern Ireland," she hollered, pointing at a round table. There was a starring role for Sir Robert Rogers (pictured), the clerk of the House charged with maintaining the fixtures, fittings and traditions, while introducing the odd 21st-century perquisite such as wi-fi and digitised Hansard. The dilemma of his role was nicely encapsulated as he marched solemnly from the Commons to the other place to perform a ceremonial handover of a new bill. He had taken the precaution of officially signing it in Norman French: “Soit baillé aux seigneurs.” No matter that the bill had already been sent over using, he explained, “some of the most advanced text handling software in the world”.

This was a fascinating tour round the building where our laws are made by the representatives we elect. It mingled respect and irreverence and only occasionally missed a trick. There isn't enough room in the chamber for all the MPs, for example, but a system has arisen in which members can pre-book a seat by turning up for prayers. Cockerell omitted to ask how this impacts on non-Christians.

He did get an interview with the Prime Minister, who is fond of the old gothic fancy that is Westminster. “It’s half like a museum,” he said, “half like a church, half like a school.” I make that three halves. Good job he’s not in charge of the economy.

Could the Prime Minister confirm for her constituents, she more or less asked, that he is doing a quite simply spiffing job?


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters