'Order, order!' - why politicians should stop shouting


Amusement (and entertainingly, adoration for John Bercow) at the British debating style was felt across the European continent after many tuned in for the debate on the first Brexit vote a few weeks ago. The words and sounds MPs use to shout down each other’s statements can seem boorish and barbaric to others; in such a political arena those who shout the loudest literally get heard the most.

In such a political arena those who shout the loudest literally get heard the most.

Politics is passion

But certainly this is what keeps politics exciting, and keeps the public engaged and interested? If parliamentary debates were only friendly conversations on the technical details of a bill then certainly no one would ever tune in, and we’d have a less informed and engaged electorate. This is certainly true; in my native Holland debates, outside of election season, aren’t watched, shared or turned into popular memes nearly as much as here.

What’s more, Chantal Mouffe writes that politics must necessarily be an arena of perpetual conflict as it involves ‘incompatible choices and dilemmas “for which no rational solution could ever exist”’. New Labour’s dabble at consensus politics, she claims, is in fact partially to blame for conflicts now being more vicious than ever before.


Bitterly divided

Indeed, both parliament and the country are more divided than ever over Brexit. A political analyst from Prague summarized the government’s behaviour by calling it ‘the infantilization of politics, to say “if it’s not my way, it won’t be any other way”’. MP Lisa Nandy wrote about this stubborn adversarialism that ‘our refusal to compromise is breaking our country. The inability to listen to one another is what got us to this desperate point.’

The idea that a combative and aggressive style of politics is the best one is embedded into our democracy. Female MPs report that a more collaborative and kind style, associated with women, is viewed as inferior by their peers. But the Brexit deadlock, and successful examples of collaborative politics show that this judgment is unfounded.

Being collaborative does not imply that one is weak. The new Prime Minister of New Zealand has said she wants to be known for creating a kinder government but emphasises that you can both ‘be empathetic and have steel’. You can truly listen to others, look for compromise, yet never lose sight of the ideals and goals you’re pursuing.

Compromise certainly doesn’t require one party to bow to the other (like when the LibDems supported higher tuition fees in a Tory coalition). Recently the Scottish government’s budget was passed due to a deal between the Greens and the SNP, a result which both parties described it as the result of ‘constructive politics’.

“You can truly listen to others, look for compromise, yet never lose sight of the ideals and goals you’re pursuing.”


Road to a kinder politics

Westminster is in dire need of some constructive, rather than destructive politics. But how to change the age-old tradition of bellowing and cheering? A system of proportional representation, like in Scotland would enable more minority parties to be elected, forcing all parties to truly listen to concerns and pursue collaboration in deals or coalitions.

While fighting to win such drastic political change, there’s a more immediate way to take some of the aggression out of the debate; take the debate out of Westminster. Letting citizens deliberate on important issues would create a kinder politics. Citizens do not have the same political interests and re-election fears as politicians. Moreover, in a deliberative setting, people are less likely to take an adversarial, win-lose approach, and are more empathetic to others and their views.

Because if the country mirrors the more pigheaded politicians, it will only grow more divided. Therefore, let the people do what politicians can’t; deliberate on Brexit, truly listen to each other and remember that Britain’s fate matters to all of us.

To learn more about how deliberation might fix the Brexit deadlock, and create better politics in general, read this blog on the topic.