History

Do MPs speak too much?

Old House of Commons. Image courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/House_of_Commons_Microcosm.jpg - some rights reserved

Blackwood’s Magazine (November 1833) decried the impact of the Great Reform Act on British politics, saying it had brought forth MPs who spent too much time giving speeches:

The Reform Bill … has augmented two-fold that class of orators who spend their breath and not their money in securing their places [i.e. constituencies], and whose seat is held by the most precarious of all tenures, that of pleasing a giddy and inconstant multitude.

Others might call it democracy, but never mind…

Every man can judge of the length of a speech; not one in ten can form an opinion either of its real merits, or the utility of the member in the more unobtrusive but useful department of Committees. But, as under the Reform Bill, “Testimonia numeranda sunt, non ponderanda;” and a member’s return is to be secured by the suffrages of the unthinking many, not the thinking few; it follows, that the species of public display which must be selected is that which is obvious to the capacities of all mankind, and astounds an ignorant and conceited constituency by its extravagant dimensions. “Our member has spoken five hours on the Irish Coercion Bill;” the thing is irresistible; his return is secure. “Our member has never opened his lips this session;” his fate is sealed, he need not shew his face on the hustings, though he has been the most useful and efficient member in Committees, that is, in real beneficent legislation, of which Parliament can boast.

We have said that this evil is one which is likely to increase, rather than diminish, with the extension of popular power in the Legislature.

3 responses to “Do MPs speak too much?”

    • Here’s a thought though: if you add up the words from MPs via leaflets, press releases, blogs, websites, media interviews etc. I wonder if they say more or less now than they used to. Early nineteenth century MPs (or at least some MPs – many almost never, if ever, spoke in debates) gave long speeches in Parliament and during election campaigns, but probably did far less the rest of the time.

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