MPs and their screens: should mobile phones be banned from the chamber?

If we want to ensure that Neil Parish is the last MP to watch porn in the Commons, there’s an easy way to do it, said Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. Just ban mobile phones from the chamber. Politicians shouldn’t be using them there anyway. Over my years observing the chamber as a sketch writer, I increasingly saw “rows and rows of MPs gazing listlessly at their phones, like a vast roomful of bored teenagers”.

Such MPs are probably engaged in “perfectly innocent, even useful activities: replying to emails from constituents, or to WhatsApp messages from party whips”. But it’s rude and destroys the whole point of them being there. Asked in a 2016 interview why so many of his colleagues had been gawping at their screens while he delivered Labour’s response to an autumn statement, John McDonnell replied, “It doesn’t look good, but that’s what happens now”. Well, it shouldn’t.

There’s no justification for it, agreed Patrick Maguire in The Times. Given that Speakers have long forbidden MPs from reading newspapers in the chamber, it hardly makes sense that our representatives are allowed to sit there playing with their phones. Voters are entitled to “at least the appearance of concentration. As with justice, that scrutiny is seen to be done is as important as the scrutiny itself. Time to switch off.”

Indeed, MPs would do well to rethink their whole relationship to smartphones and social media, said Sebastian Payne in the FT. They’ve developed an unhealthy attachment to Twitter, treating it as a constant sounding board and source of ideas. This is a mistake, as it’s “phenomenally unrepresentative” of voters’ concerns. It’s a “self-selecting bubble” where angry partisanship and novelty trump reason, and where trending topics “come and go within hours”.

It was Twitter, typically, that convinced Labour MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn to contest the leadership to “widen the debate”. The party’s leadership is determined not to let the platform lead them astray again. As one influential member of the shadow cabinet put it: “All of us as MPs should spend less time on Twitter and spend more time knocking on doors in marginal seats.” Wise words.


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