Parliament took another small step forward into the modern era this evening. MPs voted to allow the use of hand held electronic devices in the chamber of the House of Commons and in committee rooms. So MPs will be allowed to tweet from their mobiles, check their emails from their Blackberries(!) or i-phones and read their speeches from an electronic notepad.
I voted for the change and as long as we are sensible I think it will improve understanding of what MPs get up to and increase engagement with Parliament. So if the tweets and Facebook updates are informative and MPs remember that we’re in the chamber to listen to each other then these innovations will be a success. Everyone will wonder what all the fuss about, just like when the TV cameras were let in.
But otherwise the House of Commons is still very much a stuffy gentleman’s club. Why can’t other MPs refer to me by name, rather than “the honourable Member for Bristol West”? Why are lawyers any more “learned” than academics, doctors or…cough… tax consultants? Why on earth do I have to wear a tie in all meetings and a suit jacket in the chamber (you can take it off in committees) when the rest of professional Britain ditched a decade ago the notion that sartorial elegance was more important than intelligent speech and communication? Why can’t I know in advance whether I’m going to be called to speak in a debate, rather than sitting around on the off chance for 5 hours? Why can’t speeches be time limited in more debates so we get to hear more views? And there’s a lot more profound reforms I could mention that would enable MPs who are not in the Government to make a greater contribution to effective law making.
Back to all the electronic gizzmo stuff we can now do. If I am to tweet I’ll have to get a new phone. I’ve been rather attached to my Nokia E66 for several years but maybe this weekend will ask the nice people at Vodafone to give me an upgrade…