BY SANJNI GOHIL
Recent incidents within the hallowed halls of Parliament have sparked a contentious debate on whether Members of Parliament have transgressed the bounds of ideal language, prompting the question for a formal code of conduct.
Parliamentary sessions, especially PMQs which are often referred to as a Punch and Judy show, have transformed into performative contests, diverting from vigorous political debate. The lively debates that once characterised those sessions have regressed into a cacophony of personal attacks and acrimonious language. Critics argue that any such departure from decorum undermines the essence of democratic governance.
The Speaker of the House, traditionally tasked with keeping order, voiced concerns over the escalating rhetoric. In a declaration released recently, the Speaker emphasised the importance of upholding the respect of the group and urged MPs to stick to installed conventions of respectful conversation. However, the absence of explicit rules governing parliamentary language raises questions on the efficacy of such appeals. Furthermore, the subjectivity of each speaker varies their treatment of MPs. As seen in 2016 when Dennis Skinner coined Cameron ‘Dodgy Dave’ Bercow asked Skinner to revoke the statement or leave the chamber. In comparing this to 2023, James Cleverly was overtly accused of using profanity in the chamber. As the speaker’s role is to mediate discussions, to what extent can use of language fall under free speech? The ambiguity surrounding the law of language within Parliament underscores a broader task. While there are no codified legal guidelines dictating the use of language, there exist long standing traditions and norms which have advanced over centuries. These norms are intended to foster an environment in which thoughts can conflict without devolving into private animosity. With the absence of clear guidelines, this may lead to verbal abuse becoming normalised in such a performative environment.
In reaction to the developing challenge, a bipartisan institution of MPs is championing the status quo of a proper code of behaviour explicitly addressing language use inside Parliament. This proposed code seeks to delineate the expectancies for respectful communication, presenting a fashion towards which the conduct of MPs may be measured. While sceptics argue that any such code may additionally stifle real expression, proponents pressure its necessity in keeping the integrity of parliamentary discourse.
As the debate on parliamentary language unfolds, the eyes of the public continue to be fixed on the proceedings. In a generation ruled with the aid of social media and immediately communique, every uttered word inside the parliamentary chambers has the potential to reverberate far past its original context, shaping public perception.
The weeks ahead are poised to witness intensified discussions each within and out of doors Parliament concerning the want for a comprehensive code of conduct. The significant question looms big: will MPs rise to the occasion, spotting the gravity of their linguistic duties, or will the call for stricter regulations on language persist, echoing the general public's demand for a greater refined and respectful political discourse?
Image: UK Parliament